South Africa’s national director of rugby Rassie Erasmus reckons that the DHL Stormers will have their work cut out to beat Munster in Saturday’s Vodacom United Rugby Championship final but both his heart and his mind are telling him that John Dobson’s team will prevail and make it back to back titles.
Erasmus and Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber both have links to Munster after coaching there for two years (2016 and 2017) before returning to South Africa to take up their current roles and they also coached the Stormers before that so they both have intimate knowledge of the culture of both protagonists in the final.
Indeed, it was Erasmus who first appointed Dobson to a coaching role at Western Province, with the current Stormers coach winning the national under-21 competition at his first attempt.
“That was when Dobbo and Dawie Snyman (Stormers assistant coach) came into the system. If my memory is correct, Dobbo had won the Varsity Cup with UCT before that and that was where he first started to show his abilities and promise as a coach. He won the under-21 tournament at his first attempt and I think he did the same at Vodacom Cup level, and of course he also won the URC at first attempt so that says a lot about him as a coach.
“I really have to compliment him for the work he has done at the Stormers. I coached the Stormers myself and know how difficult it is to deal with the environment here. Players here sometimes used to put going to the J and B Met horse race or kite surfing above their rugby, but Dobson understands the culture and the Cape environment and really done a quite remarkable job in taking the Stormers to where they are now.
“He been clever and also quite brave in his selections and hasn’t complained when he has had to rest his Springboks. There have been several times this past season where I thought the Stormers might be in trouble because they were missing several key players to either injury or Bok resting protocols and yet they have just knuckled down and won anyway. They’ve done what we have been working towards at the Springboks by creating the kind of depth where it is possible for Frans Malherbe to miss a game and they don’t miss a beat because the replacement player produces.”
'EXPECT STORMERS TO WIN'
Erasmus added that while his heart was with the Stormers for obvious reasons, he’d been impressed with Munster’s season and the way they have got it together to make a final, something he did during his coaching stint in Limerick without nailing down the trophy.
“Munster are going to be incredibly tough. They are battle hardened and playing really well, with two away wins in the playoffs showing just what they are capable of. Of course they also came to Cape Town in the league season and inflicted the first home defeat on the Stormers in a long time,” he said.
“But Manie (Libbok) missed a few kicks in that game and also made some other mistakes that they will have learned from. Knowing how good the Stormers coaching team is, and how good they are at putting their plans in place, and also considering they are at home in front of 55 000 spectators, I am expecting the Stormers to win. Both my heart and my rugby knowledge says that.
“Munster did give both myself and Jacques an incredible amount when we were there and we enjoyed our time there. If there was another team I wouldn’t mind winning apart from the Stormers, it would definitely be Munster.”
Nienaber recalled that Stormers skipper Steven Kitshoff also started off his journey in the time that he and Erasmus were at the Stormers and Western Province.
“We selected him into the Stormers squad when he was either 18 or 19, just out of school, and I remember we had to put him through tests on his neck because of the Bok Smart protocols which we use to ensure that young props aren’t pushed through before they are physically ready for senior rugby,” said Nienaber.
“Steven was a bit like Frans Steyn and Canan Moodie in the sense that he was playing high level rugby at a very young age, before he had reached 20. He is a special player.”