John Dobson gives brutal assessment of Stormers' 'extremely poor' tour
John Dobson is one of the cheeriest, most upbeat figures in the game, so when he cuts a dejected figure you know times are challenging.
It was all smiles for much of the DHL Stormers’ first two seasons in the BKT URC, with Dobson’s team reaching back-to-back finals.
But now they have hit their first major bump in the road – or on the road to be precise – losing four successive matches away from home, against Glasgow Warriors, Benetton, Munster and Cardiff Rugby.
It’s left them down in twelfth in the table and there was no disguising Dobson’s disappointment as he spoke at the Arms Park following Friday night’s 31-24 defeat to Cardiff Rugby.
“It’s been a poor tour for us and – as our skipper Brok Harris said in the changing room – we all need to have a look at ourselves at what we could have done better right the way through.” he said.
“The two games we probably identified to win – Benetton and Cardiff – we chucked away, which is very disappointing.
“As a collective, we haven’t done ourselves any favours on our tour. I don’t think the competition thinks more of us, I don’t think some of the players or staff feel as good about themselves as we did.
“When we came on tour, we were hoping to get two wins and we haven’t got any.”
Dobson had been in buoyant mood going into the game, saying how much he had been encouraged by the performance in the 10-3 defeat to Munster and talking about his fondness for Welsh rugby.
And it looked as though he was going to have further reason for optimism as the Stormers raced into a 14-0 lead after just 12 minutes at the Arms Park.
Even though Cardiff fought back, Dobson’s men were still 24-14 up with less than half an hour to go and seemingly on course to end their European tour on a winning note.
But it wasn’t to be, as the hosts drew level and then clinched a dramatic victory with a try deep in stoppage time from replacement prop Rhys Litterick.
“Cardiff played with real fight, but we were extremely poor,” said Dobson.
“For us to give seven scrum put-ins in the second half just through losing the ball in contact or by knocking on is not good enough at BKT URC level. There was some pretty careless handling.
“We seemed to just want to make Hail Marys all the time. It was a really poor performance by us in that respect.
“We pride ourselves on our defence, but we are hurting because it wasn’t our best defensive performance by any stretch. We gave too many yards, we gave them space on the outside, they got round us, we didn’t work hard enough for a couple of their tries.
“Other than the set-piece, it was a really poor performance – defence, attack, the contestable game, the kicking game.
“I didn’t expect us to play like that, I must say. That wasn’t a pleasant experience.
“It was by far our worst performance on this trip. It was a very disappointing way to finish the tour and a disappointing tour.”
What the losing run has done however is confirm Dobson’s growing belief that the BKT URC is the toughest it’s ever been right now.
“I feel it’s even more competitive this season, very much so,” said the 54-year-old.
“Everywhere you look, there’s a fixture or two that you can’t predict. I get the feeling no-one is going to pull away.
“We are all in a dogfight, there’s no question.”
Dobson has said the Stormers’ theme for this campaign is to be the hunters, with a nod to South African culture.
When it’s put to him they really have to do some hunting down now, he quips they are going to starve unless they improve.
On a serious note, he acknowledges there is a real need to turn things around, starting with next Saturday’s Round 7 fixture against Zebre Parma at the Danie Craven Stadium in Stellenbosch.
“We are certainly not off to a cracking start,” he admitted.
“Four defeats at this stage is a lot if you want to get to the sharp end of the competition, so we have got a lot of work to do.
“We will have some personnel back, we will play some games at home – we have had five games on the road – and we will start putting together some much better performances.”
Dobson admits the pressure is on given the success the Stormers have enjoyed in their first two seasons in the BKT URC.
“If we don’t make at least a semi-final, we are going to feel terrible,” he said,
“We have created a rod to beat our own backs with. Reaching the semi-finals is the minimum target, but we want more than that ideally. Our goal is still to be back in the final.”
It’s the second year in a row the DHL Stormers have lost at the Arms Park, having gone down by a near identical 30-24 scoreline in October 2022 when they were reigning champions.
“That was a seminal moment.” revealed Dobson.
“We had been unbeaten for something like 15 games and we lost. We saw Cardiff celebrating the way they did and we thought ‘Hang on, what’s this about?’.
“We realised it was because they had beaten the champions and we started to realise we were actually under pressure – teams wanted to raise themselves and beat us.
“It’s nice for us in a funny way, but it does make it a bit more stressful. We are a scalp now.”
It remains to be seen whether this season’s defeat at the Arms Park will prove an equally seminal moment as the FHL Stormers head home looking to get back on track.