John Dobson A True Western Province Legend

Cape Town, South Africa hosted the inaugural United Rugby Championship final on Saturday night.

The fact that the final took place in Cape Town and not Dublin was a remarkable turn of events based on two factors.

First, Jake White and his Blue Bulls team had to travel to Dublin to take on the gargantuan task of playing against Leinster at the Royal Dublin Showground. Incredibly, the Bulls upset the home side from the start and, if truth be told, physically abused Leinster in the same vein as La Rochelle had done a fortnight earlier.

With a South African team guaranteed to play the final, it was up to the Stormers to ensure that this final would be held in South Africa.

As the clock ticked red in their semi-final with Irish side Ulster, it looked like the Bulls would stay in Dublin to travel to Belfast for the final.

What followed was a bold performance and a reluctance to back down as they hammered the Ulster defence.

With 83 minutes on the clock, the Stormers got a try from which they secured the ball. As they went through three quick phases via the direct approach, scrum-half Herschel Jantjies tossed the ball to fly-half Manie Libbok.

Libbok who looked like he was on the training ground as he coolly sent a 20-yard pass to a rushing Warwick Gelant who dove into the corner to make it 15-15 with 84 minutes on the clock.

With the scores locked, Libbok’s final strike would either fix it or send the game into overtime.

Taking his time, Libbok took three quick steps forward and hammered the ball away. The rest, as they say, is history, the Stormers brought the trophy to Cape Town as they ended Leinster’s four-year spell of dominance in the former Pro14 tournament.

On the field, it is certainly where the matches are won and lost, but it is outside the field that the substantive work is done.

There is no doubt that it is the players who must execute the game plans, but it is the coaches and support staff who provide the platform for this success.

In this case, head coach John Dobson deserves all the credit and applause.

A stalwart of Western Province Rugby, Dobson was first involved in the province as a player before working his way through the coaching ranks.

Having first started coaching University of Cape Town Ikeys which he took to two finals and one semi-final in his three years in charge.

His success with UCT did not go unnoticed as he took charge of Western Province U-21 in 2010. It would be his first venture into provincial coaching, and he was an immediate success as his WP team beat the Blue Bulls in the interprovincial final.

Dobson would go on to lead the U-21 team for four seasons, around this time he would also be involved in the senior setup as coach of the Vodacom Cup setup. For those unaware, the Vodacom Cup is an inter-provincial competition which also included a team from Namibia and Argentina.

While Dobson never quite made it past the Vodacom Cup milestone, several quarter-final and final appearances saw his stock rise in the province.

2015 would be a real breakout year for Dobson as he was handed the reins of the Western Province Currie Cup team as Allister Coetzee left for Japan before taking over as head coach of Springbok.

Dobson’s influence on the senior setup was seen almost immediately as they moved away from a painful defensive style of play towards a more fluid attacking style. The move would pay off as his side would top the 2016 Currie Cup round-robin series with thirteen wins from fourteen matches.

In 2019, after four years of coaching for the Western Province senior team, Dobson was promoted to head coach of the Stormers.

Unfortunately, it wouldn’t all be rainbows and sunshine for Dobson as the union continued to face financial difficulties which were further compounded by the covid-19 pandemic.

During his first two seasons, several prominent Springbok figures such as Siya Kolisi, Eben Etzabeth and Bongi Mbonambi would leave the province. A pack that was once filled with Springboks should rebuild around a younger albeit talented group and some established Springboks.

Where others may have seen a dire situation, Dobson’s understanding of Western Province rugby and the politics surrounding it allowed him to flourish.

Finishing second on the South African newspaper in a covid-19 affected Super Rugby 2020 season, the foundation has been laid for future success.

With the news that the South African franchises would be breaking away from Super Rugby to join European rugby, a new level of intrigue was immediately injected into how the teams would fare.

Early signs weren’t promising though, as the Stormers started off with back-to-back defeats, followed by consistent inconsistency over the first few months.

If Dobson was nervous, he hid it well as his side struggled on European grounds against traditional European superpowers such as two-time European champions Munster.

Midway through the season, however, the tide began to turn as they secured eleven straight wins, including the play-off series.

Dobson’s role in this turnaround was obvious to all as he never veered off course. Always cool and calm, his team reflected his attitude and playful personality as they continued to play their entertaining attacking style of rugby.

Led by youngsters like Evan Roos, Damien Willemse, Herschel Jantjies and many more, Dobson had a direct hand in their development.

Saturday’s final victory was very sweet as it came against almost the anthesis of what the Stormers are in the form of bitter rivals the Bulls.

Coached by World Cup winner Jake White, the Bulls are a no-frills operation who pulverize opposing attacking packs before their fast, physical backline is hard and direct.

At half-time it was the Stormers who trailed despite most of the rugby, the second forty would be a different story however, as the aforementioned Roos burst in for a beautifully taken score to bring the home side back into the contest .

In the same vein as their semi-final victory a week before the final went down to the wire. Unlike many iterations of Stormers teams of yore, this team was clinical in its execution and was duly rewarded with a big final win.

Victory in the URC final now prepares Dobson and this Stormers team incredibly well for the greater challenges ahead. The most notable of these is the European Champions Cup where they will face several URC opponents including the Irish big three Munster, Leinster and Ulster as well as top English and French clubs.

This will inevitably test their depth on both fronts and could make repeating in the URC a more difficult prospect, but if this season is anything to go by on this side under Dobson’s tutelage, it can never be. account.

Joan J. Holland