Gutted Dobson consoled by growth shown against Leicester
DHL Stormers coach John Dobson wasn’t telling porky pies when he said at the team announcement press conference on Friday that he’d be happy if the side he selected for the first Investec Champions Cup game just scrapped enough to leave England with a bonus point.
He knew how tough it would be to match and beat the Leicester Tigers at Welford Road, and has confessed in a few forums since Sunday’s game, won 35-26 by the hosts, that he was a bit embarrassed to have to announce a second string combination. He says he won’t do it again, as the remaining matches in the competition are a proper distance apart, meaning he will send a full strength side to Stade Francais in January.
However, he had no choice as the home match against champions La Rochelle falls just six days after the one in England, and the long trip home would have meant his first choice players would only have arrived back in Cape Town on Tuesday. So goal No 1 was for his team to show heart and spirit and, if possible, to get something out of the game in terms of a bonus point. That was how he answered when the direct question was asked him before the game.
FIRST HALF OFFERED REAL HOPE
On match day though his team, which did include a high number of combined Stormers caps mainly due to the presence of the experienced veterans Brok Harris and Scarra Ntubeni in the side, exceeded expectations and more than delivered. To the point that defeat left the coach feeling gutted afterwards.
“Unfortunately you know how it works, that first half offered us hope and it was that hope that killed us,” said Dobson after a game where his team led 17-10 after bossing the second half of the first half to the extent that a famous upset victory did start to look a distinct possibility.
“The hope killed us. At halftime we started to believe and we were going for the win, we were going for the win with that last scrum, but in the end in going for the win we lost out on the bonus point, which was the least of what we deserved from the game. So I am completely gutted to be honest, and it will take a while for us to process it.
“However, our first goal was to play with pride and show that we can compete against the best teams with the kind of side we chose today and in that sense it was still a big day for the Stormers,” he added.
Dobson is right with that last point, it was a big day for the Stormers in the sense that it translated all the talk about building depth, which started in the first Vodacom United Rugby Championship season when Leinster showed they could win or at least be competitive with an alternate team, into reality.
“Our dream last year was to build depth. We had a fair number of caps out there in this game, but 200 of those belonged to Brokkie. I thought it was a huge statement. We were disappointed with our tour and on paper the team we put out for this game wasn’t better than the ones that lost games on tour.
“This was a step up in level from some of those URC games that we lost and yet we more than competed. The Leicester players told us afterwards that it was one of the toughest games they have played, much harder and more physical than the games they play in the Premiership. That’s a huge positive for us.
“What was also positive was how we appear to have learned now how to play in the conditions we played in at Welford Road. We got it wrong often on tour, but in this game our tactics were spot on. Our kicking game and our handling of their kicking game was superb, the way we managed the game was good, and we didn’t try to hang ourselves by playing too much rugby. T me it was massive progress and a statement performance.”
MATTHEE LOOKS A REAL FIND
Every Stormers player did well on the night, but there were some standouts.
“The performances turned in by guys like Conor Evans (lock), Keke Morabe (No 8) and Jurie Matthee were pretty cool. I was told afterwards by Martin Bayfield (former England lock working in the media) that all the British journos were talking about Brok and Jurie.
“If you think there were 19 frontline players left behind in Cape Town if you factor in injured guys like Salmaan Moerat and Dan du Plessis, then this was a really good performance. To see guys like Conor and (his lock partner) Hendre Stassen doing so well augurs well for the future. Tactically it was huge as well. We appear to have figured out the conditions now.”
It was only one game but Matthee, who first started playing senior rugby in the Currie Cup last season, looks a real find at flyhalf.
“He was so cool and calm, wasn’t he? To think he had never even worn a Stormers jersey before, that was such a mature performance. He settled in very quickly and astoundingly so. He is now sitting outside in the passage talking to Handre Pollard.”
TAKING THAT LAST SCRUM WAS A MISTAKE
Dobson lamented the decision to take a scrum rather than set up the lineout when the Stormers were awarded a penalty near the Leicester corner flag when they were trailing by four points with four points to go. At the same time though he felt that was an area where the French referee, who he otherwise felt had an excellent game with the whistle, got it wrong.
“We also had the yellow card (to Lee-Marvin Mazibuko) that I didn’t even think was a penalty, but we did really well to face down Leicester with 14 men in front of their snorting crowd, so the real killer was that scrum penalty against us,” said Dobson.
“In hindsight we should have kicked for touch and gone for the lineout, but I can understand the thinking. The guys felt they had the upper hand in the scrum and our scrumhalf Stefan Ungerer had become the captain as both Brok and Jean-Luc du Plessis were by that stage off the field. We’d had four lineouts go against the throw, and Dylan Sjobom (replacement lock) was struggling to pick up the calls amidst the noise of the crowd. It was really noisy.
“Not one atom of me agrees with that call against us, it should not have been a penalty against us. At the very least it should have been a reset if not a penalty to us. I am not sure to be honest that we had the personnel on the field at that stage to go for a driving maul try, and we did have a good attacking move lined up from the scrum.”