Stormers treading similar path to Munster last year

rugby20 May 2024 08:12| © SuperSport
By:Gavin Rich
article image
John Dobson © Getty Images

The chances of the DHL Stormers playing a seventh successive home playoff in the Vodacom United Rugby Championship were closed off at the weekend, but there’s plenty that the inaugural winners of the competition can take inspiration from as they look to what lies ahead.

On the positive side of the balance sheet for John Dobson and his team, the two match tour that was completed with the tight 16-12 win over Connacht in a scrappy match in Galway at the weekend probably came at just the right time for the Stormers.

They’ve just got to replicate the sharp learning curve that eventual champions Munster embarked on in what was an almost identical buildup to an away series of playoff matches this time last year.

To refresh memories, Munster toured South Africa very late in the 2022/2023 URC league season. They had lost heavily to the Sharks in an Investec Champions Cup round of 16 match in Durban but when they returned a few weeks later for their two match URC tour they showed they had learned from that experience.

They beat the Stormers in what for them was a must win game at the DHL Stadium to inch closer to the playoffs and then made sure of it by showing great character in coming back from a 22-3 deficit to draw with the Sharks in Durban a week later. They then went on the road closer to home for their first two playoff games, beating the Glasgow Warriors in Glasgow, the first away win scored by any team at Scotstoun that season, before shocking Leinster in Dublin.

They then drew from their previous relatively recent experience in South Africa and in Cape Town in particular by winning the final against the Stormers at the DHL Stadium.

The Stormers won’t be facing Connacht or the Dragons or visiting Galway or Newport in the playoff phases, but the chances are good now that they will head to the northern hemisphere for the playoff stage after this past weekend’s results conspired against what was looking a likely trip to Loftus to face the Bulls in the quarterfinal round.


Having not won overseas in the URC since October 2022, the Stormers broke through an important barrier when they won against the Dragons, and their win over Connacht was at what has historically been a difficult venue for South African teams. On top of that, with Connacht in their last chance saloon, the game was played in a playoff type atmosphere and conformed to what you’d expect in a playoff game.

Could there be a more perfect practice for the Stormers for an away playoff game than what they went through this past weekend, with the visitors having to show steely nerve to scrape home by four points but doing well in closing the game down at the end? It was close to the perfect buildup and also it was perfect timing, with the first playoff game scheduled for just three weeks from now. Similar in many ways to what Munster faced this time last year.

The Stormers do face one more game before that. They host the Lions in their final league match in Cape Town on 1 June. But with a home quarterfinal now beyond their reach and being assured of a no worse finish than seventh, meaning Champions Cup and playoff qualification is assured, that is no longer a must win game. Indeed, given that Ulster have to go to Munster in the final round, the Stormers have a great chance of holding onto fifth even if they lose to the Lions.


Dobson and his players wanted a home playoff for all the obvious reasons, but he was quite philosophical about what lies ahead when he faced a press conference after the Connacht win.

Putting it in a nutshell, he believes getting the experience of playing in an away playoff game in the URC, something his team has yet to experience, will be important for the team’s growth.

“Every one of our playoffs has been at Cape Town Stadium, so it might be good for our growth to try and win a quarterfinal away. In fact, I have no doubt it would be,” he said.

“That’s not a justification for us not qualifying for a home playoff, of course we wanted to do that. But I think it’s going to be good for us to do it. Our goal was that we at least wanted to get to the semifinals. We have to win that quarterfinal, no matter where we go. All of them are tough, whether it’s in Glasgow, Dublin, Limerick or at Loftus. But this will be good for us. We need to go through this experience.”

And Dobson was always realistic about his team’s chances this season following the disastrous November tour where they lost all four games and were in serious doubt about making the playoffs and qualifying for next season’s Champions Cup. They went into a phase, starting with the clash with Zebre in Stellenbosch and extending through a series of tough derby matches, where they could not afford to lose.


They did lose to the Bulls at Loftus at the end of the sequence but they had essentially done enough to challenge again for a top four spot and home playoff until they lost unexpectedly at home to the Ospreys. Subsequent to that defeat, it has really been all about just ensuring a top eight finish.

“From where we were in November, the important thing was to make the quarterfinals. We put ourselves under pressure with that tour and the Ospreys loss. So it’s been a very nerve-racking thing for us to get two wins on tour,” said Dobson.

Nine points from a possible 10 was a great return for the trip for the Stormers and it means they can look forward to any away playoff game with some degree of confidence. And the way the Stormers had to dig deep in both games, with both wins coming fairly late, might have been just what the doctor ordered in the sense of getting the Stormers mentally tough.

“They were tough wins. They were tough conditions we faced in this game. These aren’t games we would’ve won a while ago. So it’s a nice feeling. It was tougher than we thought it was going to be, but it’s still a nice feeling.”

Again, so similar to what Munster were going through 12 months ago…