The DHL Stormers thrashed the Lions to end 2022 unbeaten at home in 18 matches and confirm John Dobson as South Africa’s rugby coach of the year.
Dobson was one of three coaches nominated early in December for SA Rugby’s Coach of the Year award, along with Jimmy Stonehouse and Jacques Nienaber. The Pumas’ Currie Cup winning coach edged Dobson with 51 percent of the votes in a poll of readers while the Springbok coach received just five percent.
Since then, the Stormers have scored 111 points and conceded 49 in three successive victories at Cape Town Stadium against London Irish, the Vodacom Bulls and the Lions. The win against the Lions on Saturday night capped a remarkable 12 months for the Capetonians when they clinched the first New Year’s Eve Vodacom United Rugby Championship clash in the Mother City with a six-tries-to-one victory.
The year 2022 will go down as imperfect and inglorious for the Springboks under Nienaber and Rassie Erasmus, with the missed opportunity to win the Rugby Championship, a historic first home loss to Wales, in Bloemfontein, and narrow losses on tour against Ireland and France.
However, if there is a major positive to come out of the year, it’s the continued progress of the Stormers under Cape-born-and-raised Dobson.
Dobson, with a sprinkling of Springboks but relying heavily on Western Province’s youth systems, has produced a Stormers side that won the inaugural URC and which leads the SA Shield from second place on the overall standings after 11 rounds of the 2022-23 campaign.
The prospect of competing for silverware seemed unlikely at the start of the 2021-22 campaign for the Capetonians, given what had transpired prior to the maiden URC season.
In October 2021, SA Rugby assumed administrative control of WPRU, which controls 100% of the team’s commercial arm, Western Province Professional Rugby. Experienced former SA Rugby CEO Rian Oberholzer was appointed as an administrator with oversight of the union’s affairs.
The decision was made as WP were reportedly on the brink of a financial collapse, facing liquidation and forfeiting their assets worth millions.
The Stormers then won one from their first five matches, and it all made for gloomy headlines in Cape Town.
This was all preceded by the departure of 2019 Rugby World Cup winners Siya Kolisi, Bongi Mbonambi, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Damian de Allende, Duane Vermeulen, Cheslin Kolbe and Eben Etzebeth.
But, Dobson rallied his troops, some of whom had made financial sacrifices to stay with the team, and the Capetonians went on a winning spree in which they lost just one of 13 matches to be crowned the SA Shield winners.
Bringing back Cape-born stars Marvin Orie, Hacjivah Dayimani, Leolin Zas and Manie Libbok – along with veterans Brok Harris and Deon Fourie – prior to the 2021-22 URC was also a masterstroke by Dobson.
There is no denying that the Stormers defied the odds last season but Dobson has successfully managed expectations for the 2022-23 campaign in which they started the competition as defending champions.
He oversees the Cape side as they compete on two fronts, having made their European Champions Cup debut, while also negotiating the unique experience of a jam-packed calendar for December/January when SA-based players are traditionally putting their feet up during the festive break.
It was also a considerably busy time in the off-season for Dobson with numerous contract extensions and new acquisitions such as Bok hooker Joseph Dweba, to complement a contingent of players who earned their first Test call-ups on the back of the fairy-tale URC campaign, including standout No 8 Evan Roos, veteran ballhawk Fourie and young lock Salmaan Moerat.
Dobson, too, played an instrumental role in versatile playmaker Damian Willemse signing a groundbreaking five-year deal with WP Rugby which will keep him in a Stormers jersey until at least 2027.
With all the newfound success and opportunity comes the inevitable increased player workload, especially in the build up to the 2023 World Cup, and the availability of first-choice players and Boks in all competitions is an immense juggling act, yet Dobson has kept all the balls in the air by astutely rotating his squad and backing local youngsters.
The emergence of SA U20 captain Sacha Feinberg-Mngomezulu and fellow Junior Springbok starlet Suleiman Hartzenberg has added to the ranks of future Boks at the Stormers, and unearthing new talent is a feather in the cap of Dobson.
The charismatic and philosophical ‘Dobbo’ has a dream for the Stormers, and that is to put them at what he considers world rugby’s top table, and his incredible success thus far has earned him a seat in the sun for 2022.
Photo: Shaun Roy/BackpagePix