"Woeful" Stormers need to make big step up

rugby13 May 2024 10:34| © SuperSport
By:Gavin Rich
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John Dobson © Getty Images

DHL Stormers director of rugby John Dobson was honest enough after his team’s 44-21 Vodacom United Rugby Championship win over the Dragons that the scoreline was a false reflection of the game and will be the first to admit a massive step up is required before the weekend.

The Stormers go into the last two rounds also realistic about their chances of securing a home playoff game by securing a place in the top four, but their game against Connacht in Galway on Saturday is nonetheless important in terms of making themselves sure of a top eight place. There is just one game after this, and that is a potentially tough home derby against a determined Emirates Lions team at DHL Stadium on 1 June.

There are six points separating the fourth placed Bulls from the Stormers and the Pretoria team will make sure of their top four spot if they secure a bonus point win over Benetton at the weekend, something that they would be expected to do. It might well be that the Stormers have a better chance of making it into the top four at the expense of currently third placed Munster, who are eight points ahead of the Stormers but have potentially tougher games remaining in the form of Edinburgh away this week and then a derby against Ulster.


Dobson and his men though don’t appear to be sweating too much over a top four spot any more, and acknowledge that failures early in the season, such as the poor four match tour in November where they lost every game and the more recent home loss to the Ospreys, just left them with too much to do.

“Look, I think the top four probably went when we lost to Ospreys. But we will keep fighting. Munster won every playoff game away last year, even though that is clutching a bit at straws,” said Dobson.

“We’ve put ourselves in the frame for it (a top four place) now. What we just couldn’t have let happen, is not play and not be in the top eight and the playoffs.”

Although the win over the Dragons was the first Stormers away success in the URC this season, and broke a drought that extends back to October 2022, Dobson is confident that his men can mix it with any other team in the competition in an away playoff game, which is what he appears to be preparing himself for. The priority was to ensure a top eight spot, and the five points garnered from the trip to Rodney Parade has pushed them a long way towards that goal.

“There’s nobody we are really scared of in this competition. There’s nobody we would be scared of going away to or anything like that,” he said.

“But if we had lost (to the Dragons)) it would have been really traumatic for us. We are in the fight now. If some other results go our way, we could finish in the top four, which will be great. Our focus is on experiences like this, so we can start winning away. That’s why this was so important.”


Just a win, let alone a four try bonus point, looked a bit beyond the error-ridden Stormers for much of the game, and while the Cape side will be pleased with the win, they will probably acknowledge the game was a microcosm of their season so far. In the sense they were very good in parts, but lamentably poor in others.

Indeed, the poor part was most of the game, with the Stormers rushing things and failing to protect possession against a fired up Dragons team that had nothing other to play for other than the pride that would have come from beating the inaugural champions in their last home game of the season.

“I am really unhappy. It was a woeful performance, but I’ve got to look at how much was the Dragons’ amazing pressure and how much was us being poor,” said Dobson.

“We were awful, but I’ve got a funny feeling it was caused by the Dragons. The final scoreline was probably one of the more unfair ones I’ve seen in rugby. I thought we were in a lot of trouble. The Dragons were clever. They had the territory, the possession, the crowd got behind them. The noise was something else.”

What should concern the Stormers is that the Dragons appeared to take a lead from the Ospreys’ win in Cape Town last month, with their line speed on defence forcing the Stormers into error until they finally started to put it together in turning a five point deficit into a 23 point victory in the last 15 minutes of play.

They can expect more of the same in future matches, but one thing in the Stormers’ favour before they meet a Connacht team that is always tough at home and which will be smarting and determined after a big away defeat to Munster is that they have a good preparation opportunity this week.

They traveled to Galway the day after the Newport game and with an eight day turnaround they have plenty of time to get acclimatised and get used to the 4G surface that they will play on in the game. What they need to work on is that indefinable something, maybe call it composure, that they appeared to be lacking for much of the game as they tried execute in a rush rather than hold onto possession and adhere to the basics.

Heard that one before? It has been the story of the Stormers’ season in the games they have lost. Fortunately for them they didn’t lose this one and their quest for a second URC title is very much alive, even though they will have to do it the hard way this time.