Coach John Dobson is sticking to the plan that saw the DHL Stormers play an exciting brand of rugby en route to clinching the 2022/23 Vodacom United Rugby Championship title. DYLAN JACK reports.
The Stormers begin the second URC season with a home fixture against Irish outfit Connacht in Stellenbosch on Saturday.
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Last season saw the Stormers transition away from a gameplan oriented mainly around their Springbok-infused pack to one that focused on the natural instincts of playmakers Warrick Gelant, Damian Willemse and Manie Libbok. It paid off, as the Cape Town-based team finished with a positive points difference of 153, only Irish teams Munster and Leinster finished with more.
However, this season they will be without Gelant, who has moved to Paris with Racing 92, while Willemse will miss the opening fixtures due to a concussion.
“The very short answer is no,” said Dobson, when asked if the Stormers are going to change their approach, considering the changes in the squad and pressure on them as champions.
“What we found last year, whether that was serendipitous or by design, was a game model that suits us. We are going to be absolutely rigidly disciplined about sticking to our game model and how we play.
“There will be no changes with that. If you look at the personnel that we have brought in, guys like Alapati [Leiua] and [Clayton]Blommetjies,
“Blommes is a counter attacking 15 like Warrick is, with a good kicking game and high ball skills. Alapati is a gamebreaking centre, which is very much like we get with Damian or got with Rikus, but he can also cover at 13.
“There are one or two areas we could evolve in, like contestable kicks. We have lost some big personnel but as I say, we are not changing. We are who we are and that’s how we are going to play.”
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This is not to say that the Stormers are going into the new season with any sort of cockiness. As Dobson pointed out during a media conference on Wednesday, the Stormers are well aware of how much of last season’s success relied on small moment, which could have gone the other way.
“We have put across that the team needs to get better in some areas.
“We have also put last season into context. It was great for the people of Cape Town. It was really important to us. But we must also acknowledge that there were some really tight games. The Bulls produced a fantastic performance in beating Leinster. Would we have won in Dublin? Probably not.
“It wasn’t the coaches friend last season. We had a lot of games going down to the hooter. It’s credit to them and their character, how they fought, but nobody can suggest for one season that we cruised through it or we have reason for backslapping.
“We understand that and we understand we have to get better. As the cliche goes, we have a target on our back so we have to get better. That’s how we train and hopefully that’s what we will show on Saturday.”
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