Coach John Dobson is optimistic about the Stormers’ prospects after the Cape side beat the Sharks on Saturday to climb to the top of the Vodacom United Rugby Championship’s SA Shield.
Building on their heartening comeback to draw with the Sharks at Kings Park in their previous encounter, the Stormers clinched the rematch at Cape Town Stadium.
It was a well-deserved victory and, were it not for some excellent scrambling from the Sharks, it could have been a bigger win for the Stormers.
“I thought we squandered quite a bit today, I must be honest,” Dobson said after the match. “We played much better than last week, but we may have left four or five tries out there.
“I think the Sharks had one entry in the second half, which was the try after Lukhanyo’s break with Jeremy [Ward]. I may be wrong, but I think that was their only entry in the second half.
“I think that is pretty compelling in the end.”
The Stormers resisted the urge to go against their plans for Warrick Gelant and Damian Willemse in the same starting lineup for this match, instead keeping faith with Dan du Plessis at inside centre.
It was a call that paid off massively, as Du Plessis’ direct running troubled the Sharks, while he also did very well to keep opposite number Lukhanyo Am quiet.
Du Plessis was substituted in the second half, replaced by Willemse, but Dobson said that was due to an ankle strain that should not affect his involvement in the upcoming match against the Lions in Johannesburg.
“He only came off because he was injured,” Dobson said. “I thought he was outstanding. He is a classic 12, nice and direct, physical.
“The Sharks moved Lukhanyo into 12. Obviously, Lukhanyo is one of the best 13 defenders in the game.
“So, our plan was to go through the middle and I thought Dan did it really, really well.”
The win has the Stormers leapfrogging the Sharks on the Vodacom United Rugby Championship log and they are now South Africa’s top team in the competition.
Their current form is even more impressive in light of the fact they have been without all of Frans Malherbe, Neethling Fouche, Salmaan Moerat, David Meihuizen and Evan Roos for the past two to three weeks.
“If we can keep this team together … when you look back to one of the last Super Rugby games of 2019 – we played the Lions at Ellis Park – out of that 23, 16 players have left the union,” Dobson explained.
“We tried to do a rebuild, without falling off a cliff which has happened to some teams in the past. I don’t want to rest on my laurels, but I think we have done a reasonable job.
“Budget-wise, there is a difference, without question. But if we keep this group together, the way they work for each other, it’s exciting for us. Obviously, we will look to bolster along the way as things get more settled.
“I am very proud of them. To play rugby in this province, you have to be resilient and they have shown that. They are a really tight group. All the guys we have recruited, Marvin Orie for example, he is just a consummate professional. We have just got the right guys in. Warrick Gelant, Junior Pokomela, Evan Roos, we have got a really nice young group.
“I am really optimistic. If we can keep it together, we could do something special.”
Photo: Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images