It has taken John Dobson’s DHL Stormers three years, but finally we are seeing his squad’s #TrueColours – and it has made for some sensational rugby at the DHL Stadium in Cape Town, writes Mark Keohane.
Leinster’s visit on Saturday is the Stormers biggest league challenge in this season’s United Rugby Championship – and it pits one against two in the competition.
Leinster are renowned for being the tournament’s best, while the Stormers have been South Africa’s most impressive team in the past two months. They are on a winning roll in Cape Town and they are playing some amazing rugby.
It really is time this team got the kind of support their rugby deserves with a sell-out crowd on Satutday.
The apathy of local supporters is perplexing because historically the rugby supporter in the Western Cape has always honoured good rugby with crowd attendance.
People wanted to see the best Stormers teams live, and this team has been playing some of the best rugby in the competition and doing so with a fantastic attitude.
It is very apt to recall a piece I wrote for the Cape Times in 2019, following an interview with the then newly appointed Stormers coach John Dobson.
Back then I wrote: The Stormers, for so long, have paraded as the people’s team. Now I believe they will become the people’s team, in the context of the Western Cape.
I had the pleasure of a catch up with Stormers coach John Dobson this week. I left convinced that finally there is a coach who simply gets this province, region and its people.
The Stormers, given the talent in the squad and the schedule for 2020, should be a top four candidate. Hell, they should have always been a top four candidate in the past 20-plus years of Super Rugby.
But speaking to ‘Dobbo’ I just got this amazing sense that success will not be in the top four placing but in what the Stormers actually represent to the people of the Western Cape.
Dobson comes from privilege. His words, not mine. Bishops schooled and UCT educated, he is in the minority percentage of haves in Cape Town.
Dobson also comes from that kind of stock, in which education is not confined to a classroom or a lecture hall. His (late) father, Paul, was revered in rugby circles, but his father was also one of the few who had an appreciation that rugby was a game played by the city’s people and not an elite minority.
Young Dobson was schooled in the rugby history of the Green Point track as much as he was schooled with Kelvin Grove and Newlands. He gets it ladies and gents. He knows the totality of Western Cape rugby’s past and all he wants is for the future to represent the best of that past in totality. He wants a team that speaks to every culture, every colour, every religion and every non-religious rugby lover. He wants to build a squad that identifies with the city in which they live and in which the players are true to themselves.
Dobson, when chatting about the year ahead, spoke of his players being true to themselves because if they could do this, then they would be true to others, as human beings, as players and as the kind of guys you just want to hang with.
He is a coach who wants his players to connect with the community on a daily basis and not as an extension of a marketing and media campaign. He wants his players to be the best possible rugby players but more than that he wants them to be people whose lives didn’t start as professional rugby players.
‘True colours’ is how he described his squad and his ambition for 2020 and beyond. Dobson has a three-year contract with the option of a one-year extension, depending on results. He wants to be the first Stormers coach to win the competition, but his legacy, post his departure, is in how the Stormers are perceived by the people of the Western Cape.
He wants individuality. He wants recognition of class and culture and, mostly, suburb. If you are from Kuilsriver, celebrate it. Equally, Newlands, Langa, the Bo-Kaap or the Atlantic Seaboard. If you don’t drink alcohol, then great. If you do, then just understand occasion and be responsible.
He told me his players have to own their daily decisions and own their responsibility to this region as the best rugby players in the region.
He wants people to get to the Cape Town Stadium because they identify and love those who wear the jersey. The support has to be more than just a winning result.
The Stormers, he told me, are about the many magnificent characters who will make up the squad and management. The Stormers, he added, are about the equally magnificent people of the region who support these players.
Dobson wants to be accountable for making sure that the Stormers, win or lose, are true to their colours.
When he talks, it is about integrity and about character. He talks #TrueColours
If 1999 was the year of the ‘Men in Black’, then 2020 is about a different colour … it is about a ‘True Colour’.
It didn’t quite happen in 2020 or 2021 for a variety of reasons that included the Covid pandemic, but it most certainly has happened in 2022.
This is a team for the people, about the people and very much the product of the people of the Western Cape.
Their performances don’t only deserve match-day support; those performances demand it.
Photo: Ryan Wilkisky/BackpagePix