The Stormers and Western Province Rugby have just lost their chief executive Paul Zacks, but coach John Dobson doesn’t believe that the uncertainty in the boardroom will derail their 2020 Super Rugby campaign.
WP Rugby announced Zacks’ departure on Monday, and he will leave his office on January 31, just a day before the tournament opener against the Hurricanes at Newlands.
Zacks’ decision to step down comes after his health was adversely affected by the ongoing financial and administrative problems at the union over the last few years, which will now see the business side of things run by a four-person committee until a new chief executive is appointed.
But it’s full steam ahead on the pitch ahead of this weekend’s final Super Rugby warm-up matches, against the Southern Kings in Knysna on Friday (7pm) and the Sharks at the FNB Stadium (1pm).
“We are in a good space in terms of how we built the squad. We got players that we wanted, and we are in a really good operating space at the moment. I feel that we are backed and empowered. Paul did a good job to get the players we want. We are not feeling any sort of interference or anything,” Dobson said.
Dobson’s optimism for the 2020 season has also been fuelled by the impact made by the returning World Cup-winning Springboks in the pre-season.
Captain Siya Kolisi, Pieter-Steph du Toit (who was also chosen as the World Player of the Year), Frans Malherbe, Bongi Mbonambi, Steven Kitshoff, Damian Willemse and Herschel Jantjies will front the Stormers’ bid for a long-awaited Super Rugby title, and they have already set the standard in training despite their heroics in Japan.
“It did feel a little bit vacant in the pre-season, especially with the timing of the seasons, which I have expressed often has been a frustration for us. We were training during the World Cup in pre-season, while these guys were at the height of their performance,” Dobson said.
“But it was a good opportunity to work with the youngsters, and with the new contracting model of only 45 players, we had seven or eight guys in Japan, a few long-term injuries, and about six guys out on loan. So, it was pretty small, but it was good for the longer-term future of the union.
“But when Siya and the Boks came and we hit camp, the whole thing switched to another level in terms of enthusiasm and intensity. The energy and everything has been brilliant.
“Obviously he (Kolisi) has been through a lot, but I hope giving the Boks the extra three weeks off will manifest itself in competition. They completely bought into our vision of a de-stratified team – we can’t have a team, like we had in the past, of global superstars (and the rest).
“They all bought into the vision and brought in massive technical expertise. I really cannot praise them highly enough.”
Dobson will announce his teams on Thursday, and confirmed that Kolisi will lead out what will be a strong side against the Sharks at the FNB Stadium on Sunday.
The coach added that someone like tighthead prop Malherbe and a few other Boks will likely feature against the Kings in Knysna to avoid potential injuries and fatigue that the Sunday 1pm kickoff on the highveld may bring.