Stormers coach Dobson reveals the challenges he faces in his bid to prepare players for combat

The DHL Stormers head coach John Dobson has been tasked with bringing Super Rugby silverware at Newlands.
The DHL Stormers head coach John Dobson has been tasked with bringing Super Rugby silverware at Newlands.
Image: Chris Ricco/BackpagePix

With their season stalled‚ Stormers coach John Dobson admits the challenge to prepare players for combat is psychological as much as it is physical.

Although players could return for testing last week‚ they are still not allowed to train in small pods of five as was prescribed as part of a deliberate and measured return to training strategy.

Social distancing has remained part of a landscape usually littered with full throttle‚ chest out combatants.

There had been the expectation that the players would by now be in the throes of meaningful training for a possible return to competition in August. It proved a false dawn.

“Where we are mentally is a concern for me. We got excited as the franchises got their players in for testing and that is always the start of your pre-season. We got them tested last week and this week but now we are actually not going to start training.”

Dobson and fellow coaches have opted to ease off as having the players in a heightened state of readiness could prove counter-productive.

“Three weeks ago I stopped them doing technical work. I stopped them doing rugby practical projects.

“We stopped chasing them in terms of competition and group vibe stuff because I could feel we were flogging dead horses.

"You could just see from the WhatsApp exchanges the group is dying. The key for us is to get a return to play and work backwards from that.”

He explained that the players are working with a sports psychologist.

“It is hard for them to train and put in intensity if they don’t know when they are playing. We are managing their stress‚" he said.

"We can’t be stepping on their throats. They can spend time with their families‚ do other things‚ excel in something else‚ maybe learn to cook something. Give them a break from rugby. Don’t force them into programmes that have no plan or where nothing is definite. First we need to see what the destination looks like.”

Dobson gave a practical example of what they are permitted to do on the training field. “You have one player and a trainer in one half of the field‚ and the player and a trainer in the other.

“Our medical staff has been very conservative. They don’t want upset Government in getting dispensation to play. We are stalled‚” he sighed.

He fears players may not be properly conditioned for high intensity battle in the time available between getting the green light and the resumption of competition.

“Whatever we are doing now isn’t reducing the six to eight weeks lead up for when we know we’re playing. At the moment there’s no contact‚ you can’t even pass a ball. The work we are doing now isn’t shortening our return to play.”