| The Stormers, revelling in Dobson’s freedom of expression, chase URC finale | The Stormers, revelling in Dobson’s freedom of expression, chase URC finale

Stormers players during a training session. (Photo by Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images)

Stormers players during a training session. (Photo by Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images)

  • The Stormers host Ulster in Cape Town for a United Rugby Championship semi-final clash on Saturday.
  • Head coach John Dobson emphasised that they’ve gotten to where they are by, in part, giving the necessary freedom to players.
  • Damian Willemse has returned to the side after it was previously reported he had been ruled out for the rest of the season.

On Saturday, the Stormers have an opportunity to book themselves into an inter-continental competition final for the first time since 2010.

By the time they kickoff their United Rugby Championship (URC) playoff game against Ulster in Cape Town, they will know who the first finalists are (either Leinster or Bulls).

The sensational return of Damian Willemse for the Stormers is the headline grabbing story, which is just as well because he’s been an effective player in the Capetonians’ structure.

It’s given them a timely boost for such an important game. Just last week it was announced he’d been ruled out for a lengthy period, but has returned to pick up where he left off at inside centre.

Head coach John Dobson has often admitted that the style of rugby they have employed is high risk, high reward and to allow that to flourish, he, together with his coaching staff, have given players carte blanche on the field.

His thinking is that the players on the pitch have a perspective they [coaches] don’t have and have since made no fuss over sending back messages to the field when the ball doesn’t bounce kindly. 

The Stormers are chasing ten wins on the bounce, and more importantly, a spot in the inaugural URC final.

For their part, the players have given not only the team, but themselves, a good name:

  • Manie Libbok – leading points scorer (161)
  • Leolin Zas – top try-scorer (11)
  • Evan Roos – most successful carries (133); most defenders beaten (58)
  • Deon Fourie – most turnovers won (25)

It is a captivating mix of, as the youth say, “ballers” and bruisers. 

Given the representation in key performance data, the compelling rugby seen can be chalked down to how players have taken to their freedom from management. To clip the wings of his technically adept players wouldn’t be wise, as Dobson stressed.

“As coaches we have had to have maturity to realise that you can’t have personnel (like a Warrick Gelant for example), who has magic, and not give him freedom,” said Dobson, in the week leading up to this weekend’s showdown.

“No message [from the coaches] comes when he makes a mistake. And I think the players feel safe in that environment.

“Part of our growth has been to empower players.”


Rito Hlungwani (forwards coach), John Dobson (head coach) and Labeeb Levy (skills coach and performance analyst) during a Stormers training session (Gallo Images)

Gallo Images

Dobson also said, while lapses in concentration for his side aren’t not lost on him, an 80-minute performance is not the kind of pressure he wants to heap on his players.

As he puts it, the latter stages of the first half is where he’d like his team to keep their intensity high.

“We’re playing a good club; of course, I want a performance of two halves, but it’s going to be a big battle out there, so it’s not all going to go our way,” Dobson commented.

READ HERE | Stormers hunt novel ‘perfect 10’ win sequence

The weather on Saturday is expected to resemble a summer’s day with conditions set to hit north of 20°C.

There is a milestone on the cards for Seabelo Senatla, who will play in his 50th game for the Stormers.

There will be little room for sentiment when Ulster step onto the pitch in front of a partisan crowd. They will feel they owe them one after a controversial end to their previous March encounter.

“We had a great performance on Friday against Munster but we can’t sit back. It wasn’t perfect and there are a few things we can get better at for this weekend,” attack coach Dan Soper was quoted this week.

The game gets underway at 15:00.



15 Warrick Gelant, 14 Seabelo Senatla, 13 Ruhan Nel, 12 Damian Willemse, 11 Leolin Zas, 10 Manie Libbok, 9 Herschel Jantjies, 8 Evan Roos, 7 Hacjivah Dayimani, 6 Deon Fourie, 5 Marvin Orie, 4 Salmaan Moerat, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 JJ Kotze, 1 Steven Kitshoff (captain)

Substitutes: 16 Andre-Hugo Venter, 17 Brok Harris, 18 Neethling Fouche, 19 Adre Smith, 20 Ernst van Rhyn, 21 Nama Xaba, 22 Godlen Masimla, 23 Sacha Mngomezulu


15 Stewart Moore, 14 Rob Baloucoune, 13 James Hume, 12 Stuart McCloskey, 11 Ethan McIlroy, 10 Billy Burns, 9 John Cooney, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Nick Timoney, 6 Marcus Rea, 5 Ian Henderson (c), 4 Alan O’Connor, 3 Tom O’Toole, 2 Rob Herring, 1 Andrew Warwick

Substitutes: 16 John Andrew, 17 Eric O’Sullivan, 18 Gareth Milasinovich, 19 Kieran Treadwell, 20 Matty Rea, 21 Nathan Doak, 22 Ian Madigan, 23 Ben Moxham

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