CAPE TOWN – Looking at their results, there probably isn’t much you can fault about the Stormers’ early Super Rugby campaign.
They have now won four out of four matches, having denied the Hurricanes and Bulls the opportunity to score a single point in their first two games, while they also got the job done against the Lions last week, earning their first win at Ellis Park since 2015. Then there was their 17-7 win against the Jaguares at the weekend. Sure, they had to grind it out, but they did it.
Head coach John Dobson, though, has made it unmistakably clear that he wants more. Over the last few weeks, he has spoken a lot about what the Stormers can still improve on and how he reckoned they weren’t operating at even half their capacity after the Lions game. He would have been happier with their latest performance, one in which they didn’t just get the result, but also showed improvement in areas that Dobson felt had to go better after their first three games.
Nobody can argue that the Stormers have shown massive character and commitment until now – how else do you keep two out of your four opponents scoreless without it? That’s commitment. That red-clock try, which ultimately stole the win for them against the Lions, is also testament to that character.
While those are characteristics Dobson appreciates, he wants his team to win games with their processes and not just with their character. He has said that a few times.
And against the Jaguares, they did.
Afterwards Dobson touched on one area that is still problematic.
“There were a couple of times this season where, across the back three, Damian Willemse included, we haven’t realised we’ve taken the ball back or we returned a kick when their chase line is still 30 metres off and we’re kicking into touch and these guys are getting massive territorial gains and lineouts. It’s not new this season, it is something I’m certainly going to address,” Dobson said on Saturday. “There are challenges around the back three and kicking, definitely. Gaza (Willemse) is not known for kicking and neither is Dillyn (Leyds) and the wings aren’t really kickers, that is potentially a red flag or a concern for us.”
With that concern, Dobson isn’t being an overbearing teacher holding his boy wonder to extreme and unrealistic standards. It’s legit. He wants his players to be at their best. And for a team who, given their talent and personnel over the years, has bizarrely failed to produce results, it’s exactly what they need.
After the Jaguares game, Dobson also said that defence coach Norman Laker was “beside himself” about the Stormers conceding their first try at Newlands in 2020. Even though it was just one. Even though they still won the game. Even though they are the only unbeaten team in Super Rugby. Laker didn’t want that Jaguares try to happen. And, like Dobson, that is the mentality the Stormers need.
There is no doubt that things will get tougher as the tournament progresses. The tour is going to be a proper challenge, so doing maximum damage and building those log points while playing at home is vital.
Again, it’s going to get tougher. But with the character the players have shown, combined with the coaches’ hunger to continuously improve, the Stormers are almost guaranteed to make their last year at Newlands a memorable one.