Durban - Five months ago, the Stormers players were worried about whether they would get paid, and the bookies’ tip of them having an 88 to 1 chance of winning the URC crown seemed entirely justified.
It was around about then that something special happened for the Stormers. They were playing the Sharks in Durban and for most of the game they looked thoroughly defeated but by the end of an extraordinary final quarter, the Cape team had fought back magnificently to draw the game.
Five months after that dramatic draw, the Stormers’ record for this year is played 16 and won 15, including, of course, last week’s final.
It was after that Sharks game at Kings Park that it emerged that John Dobson had resorted to the passionate poetry of Dylan Thomas to rally troops that were despondent before the match because of the eternal and infernal politics at Western Province. Financially, the union had gone belly up, just like the Southern Kings, and everybody was blaming everybody in the saddest of sagas for such a proud union.
Dobson who loves his music as he does his poetry would surely smile if I suggested the Stealers Wheel song “Stuck in the Middle With You,” which well-illustrated the position he was in — “clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right”.
That was exactly his position and the best thing he could have done — and he did it beautifully — was to draw a laager around his players, appeal to a warrior spirit that resonates with all rugby players, and soundly bang the us-against-the-world drum.
In shutting out the white noise of the Western Province politicians and making it all about the team, Dobson did what one Cape Town writer put so succinctly: he removed the clowns from the circus, and with them gone it was a circus no more.
I venture that it was the personality and charisma of Dobson that first had the Stormers’ players fighting to avoid failing at base camp level and then striving for the very summit.
We are talking about an extremely learned, honours graduate from the University of Cape Town. A well-rounded gentleman who has written three books, run the Chicago Marathon, sailed around Africa, edited SA Rugby Magazine for a period; is the son of this country’s most revered rugby historian and a world-renowned referee in Paul Dobson, and most importantly he is a South African who by action rather than just words has made a stand against inequality.
Dobson, as a feisty hooker in his playing days, left the world of white privilege after he graduated from UCT and out of conscience joined the non-racial rugby league in Cape Town, turning out for the club Northerns Avonwood.
This was some time before unity in 1994 and it confirmed that Dobson is a man where actions speak louder than words, and his current crop of Stormers players obviously know that their coach speaks from the heart, has no forked tongue, and is well worth going to war for.
In fact, another literary gem springs to mind. For the Stormers in 2022, it was the case of “Cometh the hour, cometh the man.”