Cape Town South Africa played host to the inaugural United Rugby Championship final on Saturday evening.
The fact that the final was taking place in Cape Town and not Dublin was a remarkable turn of events based on two factors.
Firstly, Jake White and his Blue Bulls side had to travel to Dublin to take on the gargantuan task of playing Leinster at the Royal Dublin Showground. Incredibly the Bulls upset the home side from the off and truth be told physically manhandled Leinster in a similar vein to the way La Rochelle had done a fortnight earlier.
With one South African side guaranteed to be playing in the final, it was on the Stormers to ensure that this final would be take place in South Africa.
As the clock struck red in their semi-final with Irish side Ulster, it appeared as though the Bulls would be remaining in Dublin to travel up to Belfast for the final.
What followed was a gutsy performance and an unwillingness to give in as they pounded away at the Ulster defence.
With 83 minutes on the clock the Stormers were awarded a try from which they secured the ball. As they built through three quick phases via the direct running approach, scrumhalf Herschel Jantjies flung the ball to flyhalf Manie Libbok.
Libbok who looked as though he was on the training ground as he coolly sent out a 20-metre pass to an on-rushing Warwick Gelant who dived over in the corner to make the scores 15 – 15 with 84 minutes on the clock.
With the scores locked the final strike from Libbok would either settle it or send the game to extra time.
Taking his time Libbok took three quick steps forward and hammered the ball home. The rest as they say is history, the Stormers brought the trophy to Cape Town as they ended Leinster’s four-year period of dominance in the old Pro14 tournament.
On the field is certainly where matches are won and loss, however it is off the pitch where the groundwork is done.
There can be no doubting that the players are the ones who have to execute the game plans, but it is the coaching and support staff who offer the platform for this success.
In this instance head coach John Dobson deserves all of the credit and plaudits.
A true stalwart of Western Province Rugby, Dobson has been involved with the province firstly as a player before working his way through the coaching ranks.
Having initially started coaching the University of Cape Town Ikeys whom he took to two finals and a semi-final in his three years in charge.
His success with UCT didn’t go unnoticed as he was handed the reigns of the Western Province U-21 in 2010. This would be his first venture into provincial coaching, and he was an immediate success as his WP side beat the Blue Bulls in the interprovincial final.
Dobson would go on to lead the U-21 side for four seasons, in this time he would also be involved with the senior set-up as the coach of the Vodacom Cup set-up. For those unaware the Vodacom Cup is an interprovincial competition that also included a side from Namibia and Argentina.
Whilst Dobson never quite got his side over the hump on the Vodacom cup several quarterfinal and finals appearances saw his stock rise within the province.
2015 would be a real breakout year for Dobson as he was handed the reigns of the Western Province Currie Cup team as Allister Coetzee departed for Japan before taking over as Springbok head coach.
Dobson’s influence on the senior set-up was seen almost immediately as they moved away from a trudged defensive style of game towards a freer flowing attacking style. This move would pay dividends as his side would top the 2016 Currie Cup round robin series with thirteen wins from fourteen matches.
In 2019 with four years of coaching the Western Province senior side, Dobson was promoted to the role of Stormers head coach.
Unfortunately, it would not be all rainbows and sunshine for Dobson as the union continued to face financial difficulties which was further compounded by the covid-19 pandemic.
In his first couple of seasons several senior Springbok figures such as Siya Kolisi, Eben Etzabeth and Bongi Mbonambi would leave the province. A pack that was once packed with Springboks would need to rebuild around an albeit talented group of youngsters and some established Springboks.
Where others may have seen a dire situation, Dobson’s understanding of Western Province Rugby and the politics around it allowed him to flourish.
Finishing in second position on the South African log in a covid-19 affected 2020 Super Rugby season the foundation was put in place for future success.
With the announcement that the South African franchises would be breaking away from Super Rugby to join European Rugby a renewed level of intrigue was immediately injected into how the sides would fare.
The early signs were not promising however as the Stormers opened with back-to-back defeats which was followed up by consistent inconsistency for the opening few months.
— United Rugby Championship (URC) (@URCOfficial) June 18, 2022
If Dobson was nervous, he hid it well as his side struggled on the European pitches against traditional European superpowers such as two times European champions Munster.
At mid-season however the tide began to turn as they ripped off eleven straight wins including the play-off series.
Dobson’s role in this turnaround was evident for all to see as he never deviated from the course. Always cool and calm his side reflected his attitude and fun-loving personality as they kept playing their entertaining attacking brand of rugby.
Spearheaded by youngster such as Evan Roos, Damien Willemse, Herschel Jantjies and many others who Dobson had a direct hand in their development.
Saturday’s final win was extra sweet as it came against almost the anthesis of what the Stormers are in form of bitter rivals the Bulls.
Coached by the World Cup winning Jake White, the Bulls are a no-nonsense operation that pulverise opposition forward packs before their fast and physical backline run hard and direct.
At halftime it was the Stormers who trailed despite playing most of the rugby, the second forty would be another story however as the aforementioned Roos barged over for a beautifully taken score to bring the home side back into the contest.
In a similar vein to their semi-final win a week before the final would go down to the wire. Unlike many iterations of Stormers teams of yesteryear this team were clinical in their execution and were duly rewarded with a big final win.
Victory in the URC final now sets up Dobson and this Stormers side incredibly well for bigger challenges that lie ahead. Most notable among them the European Champions Cup where they will face several URC foes most notably the Irish big three Munster, Leinster and Ulster as well big English and French clubs.
This will inevitably test their depth on both fronts and could make repeating in the URC a tougher prospect but if this season is anything to go by this side under the tutelage of Dobson can never be counted out.