Dobson: We want to empower our players

Stormers coach John Dobson says they are looking to empower their players to play a more fluid style of rugby during the preparation series. DYLAN JACK reports.

After their 2020 season ended with a disappointing Currie Cup semi-final defeat by the Sharks, the Stormers are back in action this weekend when they host the Cheetahs in their first match at Cape Town Stadium on Saturday afternoon.

The match will also serve as the start of the Stormers’ preparation for the tough season ahead, as SA Rugby looks to get all four franchises ready for the Rainbow Cup.

The Stormers came under heavy criticism last season for a perceived over-reliance on their set-piece and territory game, but as Dobson pointed out during Wednesday’s pre-match media conference, it was not only the Cape side that were thus criticised.

While the Stormers won’t be going away from their strengths, Dobson explained that their playmakers will be given more freedom to play the situation.

‘The whole rugby product, it wasn’t unique to us,’ Dobson said.  ‘We have just come off a call with SA Rugby where we looked at how the franchises had played and how defences have dominated throughout. We decided the responsible thing to get ready for PRO16 was to evolve our territory game.

‘Our next step is to play rugby that suits this team’s DNA, but we cannot go back from this territory game. We would like to play more attacking rugby and empower the players. Maybe in the last competition we were very prescriptive about zones on the field. Now it is going to be more about Tristan Lleyds and Kade Wolhuter, Timmy [Swiel] when he plays and Damian [Willemse] when he is back being allowed to make those decisions. We must now add to it, with a more fluid and exciting talent.’

Saturday’s team to face the Cheetahs features an interesting blend of seasoned campaigners – such as lock Chris van Zyl, who will captain the team – and exciting youngsters like Tristan Lleyds and Kade Wolhuter.

‘One of the frustrations of the time we find ourselves in is that there are no other competitions – no U21 Championship, no SuperSport Challenge – so we haven’t had a chance to look at our depth. As we got to the sharp end of the Currie Cup, we were under pressure to make the playoffs, so we couldn’t give as many guys a run as we would have liked.

‘It’s important to us that we get guys in who are important to our plans. We are not treating this, like, give everybody a game or an U21 competition. We could be going into the Rainbow Cup in a couple of weeks’ time. We need to look at guys who we could end up playing. That’s the idea behind it.

‘We are actually quite lucky that our first two games are against the Cheetahs and Griquas. Because those teams aren’t involved in the Rainbow Cup, I would imagine they will be playing close to their full strength teams and will have all the points to prove.

‘Griquas had a tough time in the Currie Cup and deserved better and Cheetahs were certainly unlucky. Those are two high-level oppositions. So it gives us a chance to gauge our squad. Let’s say there might be 30 or 32 places in the Rainbow Cup squad, a player like a Marcel Theunissen or BJ Dixon is playing for his place on that plane.’

When asked if there is a point in risking his Springboks during any of the upcoming matches, Dobson said these players will need to get themselves match fit again as they prepare to face the likes of Leinster and Munster.

‘There is definitely. That’s why they chose to call it a preparation series. At what stage we do that is up for debate. We could be going into a two-week quarantine and our next game might be – if I am sucking it out of the air – Leinster. Then you could be asking Steven Kitshoff, who played his last game on 23 January, to play against Leinster. That’s how you could get Kitshoff injured. So, they will be playing in this series. Chris will be the captain for the whole series. We have to get our guys as close to match fitness.’

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Photo: Shaun Roy/Gallo Images

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Dylan Jack