“These discussions have happened over the last year, so I knew what was going on,” said Robbie Fleck about John Dobson replacing him as Stormers coach. Photo: Chris Ricco/BackpagePix

CAPE TOWN – Robbie Fleck is still the man in charge of the Stormers. Let’s all get that straight. 

That came directly from his successor, John Dobson.

The pair lined up together in what under normal circumstances should have been an awkward media briefing at a cold and wet High Performance Centre in Bellville on Monday afternoon.

But, in fact, there was nothing frosty about the outgoing (Fleck) and incoming (Dobson) Stormers coaches doing a joint press conference.

There was actually quite a warm and fuzzy feeling – something that hasn’t been associated with Stormers media engagements in recent times – with both coaches showering each other in praise.

Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that there is mutual respect between the two tacticians, which has been accumulated over a decade of working together since Dobson opened the coaching door for the former Bok centre at the Green Mile of the UCT Ikeys.

This relationship has certainly helped WP Rugby negotiate some murky waters, and will allow the Stormers to build on the recent momentum gained in Super Rugby.

Crucially, it will also give the players greater clarity about their own futures at Newlands. 

“From my side, it’s been in the making for a long time. It will help us focus on the job in 2019. Dobbo has been part of the management team since November. I am just glad that we can announce it now,” Fleck said.

“Obviously with Dobbo, I have worked with him in the last couple of Currie Cup campaigns in a supporting role. We have had a great working relationship since our UCT days, and it has continued in the WP Currie Cup and now it has continued in Super Rugby.

“From my side, and the players’ point of view, it has finally been announced, and we can continue doing our jobs.”

Both coaches agreed that the timing of Dobson’s appointment for the 2020 Super Rugby season midway through the current campaign was not ideal, but it had to be done for the best interests of the union and, most importantly, the players. 

“In an ideal world, we would have wanted to make this announcement at the end of the season, because this is the culmination of a four-year cycle. I would have preferred if it happened afterwards, but Rob is dead right that one mustn’t be naïve, because for 2019 and 2020 to be a success, you need happy players,” Dobson said.

“So, you don’t really want to be going towards a quarter-final in this year’s competition with a guy looking over his shoulder and negotiating with Wasps – or whoever it is – but thank heavens it’s only in game three, because Fleckie has put in a helluva lot of work over the past three years in building up towards 2019.

“So it is no fault of his or ours – rather this than heading into playoffs, because it now allows the players to focus on one thing.” 

Equally, Fleck sang from the same hymn sheet.

“The timing came into effect because we had to announce it now because of the contracting of the players. We don’t always get to choose when things come out.

“But like I said, these discussions have happened over the last year, so I knew what was going on. It has been pretty clear on my side.

“We are getting involved in negotiations with players, and it is my responsibility to help Dobbo in that regard,” he said.

“From my side, I am just looking forward to making things happen this year. My job is to make this a winning team, and create a safe environment to work in, and to ensure there is a smooth transition.

“The big challenge for John going forward is the contracting of players, and to secure a strong player base.

“It is an end of an era, but it is also the start of a new era.”  

The positive vibes were certainly overflowing in Bellville on Monday, with the return of Springbok loosehead Steven Kitshoff bringing further smiles to the Stormers camp.

The flame-haired prop has missed the opening three rounds of the competition due to a hamstring injury, but will now be in contention for Friday night’s showdown with the Jaguares (7.10pm kickoff), and crucially will be available for the Stormers tour Down Under.

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