Stormers coach John Dobson drooling over Kiwi derbies

Coach John Dobson of Western Province during the Currie Cup match between Xerox Golden Lions and DHL Western Province at Emirates Airline Park on September 15, 2018 in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Coach John Dobson of Western Province during the Currie Cup match between Xerox Golden Lions and DHL Western Province at Emirates Airline Park on September 15, 2018 in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Image: Sydney Seshibedi/Gallo Images

It is undoubtedly the most eagerly anticipated New Zealand derby ever.

The prospect of the Highlanders hosting the Chiefs in sleepy Dunedin has everybody drooling, including Stormers coach John Dobson.

Super Rugby, which has been in limbo due to Covid-19 restrictions since the second week of March, returns under a much revised format with New Zealand’s franchises engaged in combat from Saturday.

Dobson is salivating, not just at the prospect of seeing live sport for his mental well-being, but what he can glean from the game’s trendsetters.

“For us it is absolute gold. Not just to keep from insanity but the technical things. They have always been the best at the breakdown and while there are no new laws they are going to blow the laws,” said Dobson about the intricacies he is likely to fastidiously jot down.

The ruck, in particular, will command his attention.

“What happens at the breakdown will be really interesting. People have to come through the gate, the stealer doesn’t have to survive the clean out and the carrier can’t misbehave too much on the ground. They are always the best at it. It does give us a bit of an advantage if we can start prepping watching that,” said Dobson.

In that regard South African franchises can do with all the help they can get. Due to South Africa’s higher Covid-19 infection rate, the country’s players will be well behind their Antipodean counterparts in returning to training and competition.

Here players still have to practice social distancing and Dobson fears they 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.”

The frustrations at the Stormers are by no means unique.

“I actually had a chat with Sean Evertitt at the Sharks and he said something similar,” said Dobson.

“The players are pretty frustrated. There was a lot of optimism around returning in August and competition formats, but there is a very strong proviso to it. We have to wait before we get the go-ahead to start training. The reality is six to eight weeks build-up is needed. We aren’t allowed to get into groups of five yet.”

Injury will be a real risk and there is already evidence to suggest players are venturing into unknown territory.

“We’ve already seen in the Bundesliga where the injuries they suffered were three times the normal number. Ideally you want a friendly two weeks before you play competition.

"Say we are playing in August, we have a friendly in July and now we’re already in the middle of June. Even if we get the green light on Monday how do we get the guys ready for a friendly?” asked Dobson.

He holds similar fear for the Springboks should they form part of a revised Rugby Championship played in its entirety in a central hub, as has been suggested, in Australia.

“This is probably not for me to comment on but the Springboks would be a massive concern if they go into a bubble and quarantine. How are they possibly going to be ready to play a game when the other guys are (already) playing rugby. Then the injuries become a spectre.

“If you rope in other guys the competition’s meaning falls away, it is very tricky,” warned Dobson.