John Dobson wants Stormers to maintain ‘good feeling’ against Sharks

Dan du Plessis will make a welcome return from injury at inside centre for the Stormers against the Sharks on Saturday night. Photo: Phando Jikelo/Independent Media

Dan du Plessis will make a welcome return from injury at inside centre for the Stormers against the Sharks on Saturday night. Photo: Phando Jikelo/Independent Media

Published Dec 30, 2023


The Stormers are not worried about a Christmas hangover as they prepare to take on the Sharks in the final United Rugby Championship match of the year on Saturday.

It’s been two weeks of good wins against La Rochelle and the Bulls, respectively, and the home side feel their momentum and chances of making the top four of the competition will be heavily impacted should they fall to a defeat at Cape Town Stadium (7pm kick-off).

That is why head coach John Dobson described the match as “non-negotiable” in terms of getting a win.

Centre Dan du Plessis makes a welcome return from a quad injury – replacing his injured cousin Jean-Luc du Plessis (groin) – in his first competitive match of the season, as the Stormers largely stuck to the side that beat the Bulls last weekend.

Springboks Warrick Gelant and Evan Roos are still absent with injuries. That means Damian Willemse stays at fullback, with Du Plessis taking up the No 12 jersey and resuming his midfield partnership with Ruhan Nel.

Youngster Jurie Mathee is in line to make his URC debut off the bench – after starring in the Champions Cup against Leicester – and can feature at flyhalf or fullback.

Dobson has pushed his troops for the last three weekends, and they will get a well-deserved break after today’s clash. And he wants them to go and rest – whether in Stilbaai, Langebaan or Knysna – with a victory.

Should they win, it will be another calendar year of no losses against South African opposition.

“We haven’t really talked about it (going unbeaten again for another year), but more about the URC log, but it would be a nice achievement,” Dobson said yesterday about keeping their unbeaten run against the Sharks, Bulls and Lions going.

“When the guys got back on Tuesday, I got a feeling that they are up for this. I thought we were going to have to do a lot of squeezing and running off of Christmas pudding and brandies and cake, but we didn’t have to do a lot of that stuff.

“This game is important not only for our morale, but there is a good feeling around the Stormers again where there wasn’t after losing on tour – a lot of questions were asked around the team.

“But this game is helluva important regarding where we want to be in the play-offs. We also don’t want to go into two tough Champions Cup games having undone some of the good work, especially in terms of the URC log.

“The Bulls are ahead of us and the in-form team, and we have to stay in touch. That is what makes (the Sharks game) so important.”

Dobson also warned his side to be wary of allowing the Sharks to “click” against them today and cause an upset. The Durban side are struggling to get a foothold in the competition and have only recorded a single victory thus far.

But they come to Cape Town with a Springbok-laden backline, with only former Blitzbok Werner Kok among them without a Bok Test jumper.

And with lock Eben Etzbeth and prop Ox Nche at the forefront of their lineouts and scrums, it will be a mouth-watering forwards contest.

Hooker Scarra Ntubeni will run out in his 100th match for the Stormers, and his experience alongside captain Deon Fourie will be vital upfront.

Should the Sharks find their groove in the Mother City and upstage the Stormers, it can be a long wait for another URC victory, with the former champions’ next league game only in February in Durban against the Capetonians.

Stormers Team

15 Damian Willemse 14 Suleiman Hartzenberg 13 Ruhan Nel 12 Dan du Plessis 11 Leolin Zas 10 Manie Libbok 9 Paul de Wet 8 Hacjivah Dayimani 7 Ben-Jason Dixon 6 Deon Fourie (captain) 5 Ruben van Heerden 4 Adré Smith 3 Neethling Fouché 2 Scarra Ntubeni 1 Sti Sithole.

Bench: 16 André-Hugo Venter 17 Ali Vermaak 18 Brok Harris 19 Hendré Stassen 20 Marcel Theunissen 21 Willie Engelbrecht 22 Herschel Jantjies 23 Jurie Matthee.


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