Adapting to the ref key to Stormers’ chances

rugby23 March 2023 17:57| © SuperSport
By:Gavin Rich
John Dobson © Getty Images

DHL Stormers coach John Dobson believes that adapting to the referee quickly and efficiently will be the key to his chances of upsetting table topping Leinster in their Vodacom United Rugby Championship clash at RDS Arena in Dublin on Friday night.

The match will be refereed by Sam Grove White and while Dobson is not specifically troubled by having the Scotsman in charge of the game, he did admit at the team announcement press conference that his side’s ability to adapt to foreign referees, particularly in overseas games, remains a concern.

“Referees are part of the challenge that is faced in the URC,” said Dobson. “In the Glasgow game we didn’t adapt well to the refereeing interpretations and that was part of the reason we lost that game. The Ulster game we sent an understrength team and were outplayed so that had nothing to do with the refereeing, but it was arguably a contributing factor in the loss to Cardiff and the draw to the Ospreys.

“It, meaning adapting to the referees quickly, is something we do have to be much smarter at. In the URC we’ve come out of a long period of derbies where we have been refereed by South African referees so apart from the Ulster game, you probably have to go back to the game against Glasgow to the last time we had a foreign URC referee, and that was on 8 January.

“So I would be lying if I said we don’t have a little bit of consternation, but it is up to us to adapt as quickly as possible to the situation that presents itself,” he added.


Like the possibility of rain and strong wind, which is forecasted for Dublin for Friday night, in some ways a few curve balls from the referee might be a good thing for the Stormers. For Dobson isn’t hiding from the fact that the RDS Arena game is being seen as a big learning opportunity for his side as much as it is an opportunity to make a statement by beating the top ranked side.

“We are aware that all our defeats this season have been in the northern hemisphere, we haven’t lost a game on South African soil,” said Dobson.

“Cardiff, Glasgow and Ulster were the games that we lost and that return is a bit disappointing for us in our drive to be at the top table of world rugby so we want to turn that around. Having said that, we must be realistic about this game. This is not a game that is all about winning at all costs, our main focus is on doing what is necessary to produce a good performance the following weekend when we play a Champions Cup knockout game against the Harlequins at DHL Stadium. If we play well on Friday that will help our cause for that game.

“Obviously getting the W would be great and a big step for us, but if we play well and don’t win we will still be satisfied. But the main thing is to have a fit team prepared to do the business for us the following week against Harlequins in front of the Cape Town faithful.”


Dobson reckons his team won't be the only one at the RDS Arena that will have the following week on their mind.

“Just like the Champions Cup game against Harlequins is important for us, so it is for them when they play Ulster in their round of 16 clash in what is anticipated to be a packed Aviva Stadium. That is a massive game for them. You also have to factor in that their main team has just been on the high of winning the Grand Slam.

“They’ve already run away with top position on the URC log and we know that the fact they haven’t won the Champions Cup for quite a while now is something that will have them smarting. So it may well be that there is more in this game for us than for them as we don’t have a great record in this part of the world and even though they may be ring rusty, we are playing our frontliners. This is an important game for us in terms of us seeing where we stand in relation to the competition trend-setters.”


The frontliners that Dobson refers to are the returning Springboks Steven Kitshoff, Frans Malherbe, Marvin Orie and Damian Willemse. Three of those four players haven’t played rugby for the last two months, while Malherbe has been out since before Christmas. How quickly those players regain match sharpness will be as crucial to the Stormers as their adaptation to the referee.

“It is great to be back. We have done a lot of conditioning but obviously there will be a question over match fitness so we will just have to byt vas (dig in),” said skipper Kitshoff.

“There has been a great buzz in the camp the whole week, since we landed on Monday. There is a great mentality around this team. Everyone is talking rugby and talking about plans for the game. Us Boks are highly motivated to play in the Stormers jersey again. As Dobbo says, some of us haven’t played in a while but we’ve been working hard on fundamental skills so hopefully we will be able to get through the game and show that off.”