Coach John Dobson has hailed the value of the north-south derby in showcasing the best of South African rugby as he prepares the Stormers to take on the Vodacom Bulls in a match that marks the pinnacle of his coaching career to date. DYLAN JACK reports.
The two teams that will contest the Vodacom United Rugby Championship final at Cape Town Stadium on Saturday, the Stormers and Bulls did battle twice during the regular season. There was plenty of banter between the two teams in the build-up to each match and the Capetonians came out on top on both occasions.
The north-south rivals last clashed in a continental final in 2010, when the Bulls came out 25-17 victors in Soweto.
There is also a bit of history between the two teams in the current Stormers squad. Warrick Gelant has been in career-best form since moving to Cape Town from Pretoria and the same could be said of flyhalf Manie Libbok, who arrived at the Stormers through the Sharks. Star centre Damian Willemse was also the subject of interest for the Bulls, before he signed on with the Stormers until 2024.
“It feels like a normal Stormers vs Bulls game. Just the pride in that game means so much for us,” said Dobson at a news conference on Wednesday. “The trophy is almost incidental in this case. Neither team would like to see the other team lift the trophy, but it feels like a normal derby to us, a proper bragging-rights South African derby. It would be different if we were playing Leinster or something like that. There is just so much history in this rivalry.
“Jake White has coached in bigger games than this, but for me, this means the world.” – Stormers coach John Dobson
“I should talk it down, but it’s good for South African rugby. We had a team meeting here a couple of hours ago and Deon [Fourie] spoke on the field about the Stormers-Bulls rivalry and the passion. It is definitely different among our players. We don’t want that to change because one of the fears is that rugby becomes vanilla.
“To have the passion that’s coming out this week – I am sure it’s also happening in Pretoria – to have the way we’ve spoken in the team meetings. Rito [Hlungwani, forwards coach] spoke up and it was personal. Not personal as an affront to Rito himself, but it means the world to this team.
“It’s great for SA rivalries and we must not wash them down to become like any other game. From the players themselves, Steven [Kitshoff] said it himself, Stormers vs Bulls is the cherry on top.”
There are two survivors from that 2010 final who are still playing for the Stormers, 12 years later. Brok Harris started at tighthead prop at the Orlando Stadium, but has been an excellent backup to captain Kitshoff at loosehead this season.
Meanwhile, Deon Fourie was a replacement hooker in the game, but will play his 100th match for the Stormers at openside flank.
“They are different,” Dobson said on the influence of the two veterans. “Brokkie just has this quiet confidence and aura. I do feel bad in that he only got three-and-a-half minutes last week. We pushed Kitsie too deep again but, still, Brokkie came off as if he had played 60 minutes and was happy as can be. For him, it’s never about Brokkie, it’s about whatever the team needs.
“Whereas Deon is vocal. He is up for this one. He speaks to the team in every circle. He reminds them about how important the game is, what’s needed, about staying on task. It’s almost a fairy tale. He comes out here, will play his 100th game, and gets chosen for the Springbok squad. The planets are aligning for him, we just need one more to get in line.”
Despite speaking the rivalry between the two teams, Dobson moved to play down the personal rivalry between himself and Bulls head coach Jake White.
“I was asked whether this is the biggest game of my coaching career and it is. For Jake White, it probably isn’t. He has coached and won a World Cup and has earned enormous respect. For me, it’s almost a privilege to coach against someone of his stature. He has coached all over the world.
“My mission is probably a little different. I want to coach Western Province and the Stormers. I grew up here, to me this is not a coaching contract. I haven’t travelled the world or got the track record he has. He has coached in bigger games than this, but for me, this means the world.”
Who are you picking? pic.twitter.com/lrt45ln2DZ
— SA Rugby magazine (@SARugbymag) June 15, 2022
Photo: Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images