John Dobson’s decision to field a second-string DHL Stormers side against Leicester Tigers on Sunday is a “necessary pain” before a tough run of matches in SA, writes MARK KEOHANE.
Veteran prop Brok Harris will lead a relatively inexperienced team in their opening match of the 2023-24 Champions Cup at Welford Road, with a host of star names staying home to prepare for next week’s clash with title-holders La Rochelle in Cape Town.
A week later, the Stormers battle the Vodacom Bulls in the Vodacom URC at Cape Town Stadium, and close out 2023 with a coastal derby against the Sharks in the Mother City on 30 December.
Writing for TimesLIVE, Keohane emphasises that head coach Dobson is strategic, using the Leicester match to measure young flyhalf Jurie Matthee’s progress against Handre Pollard and to assess other players like Suleiman Hartzenberg, who makes his first start of the season since returning from a long-term injury.
Keohane notes the challenging schedule with back-to-back home games against La Rochelle and the in-form Bulls in December, and despite expecting a tough match in Leicester, he argues that Dobson is realistic about the outcome for the Capetonians.
“It is some finish to the year for the Stormers and all the planning has centered around making a statement against La Rochelle and then trying to stop White’s rampaging Bulls,” he writes.
“The realist in Dobson knows that Leicester are likely to fear the cold more than the Stormers run-on XV, and he will use Sunday’s match to measure the progress of flyhalf Jurie Matthee, who makes his competition debut against the Springboks’ World Cup-winning sharpshooter Handre Pollard.
“The juggling of player resources and the fielding of second-string teams for away matches in the Champions Cup and URC is foreign to South African rugby supporters, but then playing league matches in Cape Town on the 23rd and 30th of December is also foreign.
“It is, however, South African rugby’s new landscape and in the case of the Stormers there will be times when a team must, in rugby terms, be prepared to lose a fight to win the war.”
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