Cape Town - You could hear Stormers defence coach Norman Laker on TV shouting throughout the first half to the players to get into position against Clermont, and it worked a treat as the Cape side led 14-3 at halftime at the Stade Marcel Michelin.
Steven Kitshoff and the rest of the team had worked hard to contain the French club in the tight exchanges, and their reward was a maul try to Deon Fourie – who was outstanding at the breakdowns too – and penalties by Manie Libbok and Clayton Blommetjies.
But then that hard edge seemed to disappear from the Stormers’ game in the second half, and they were unable to withstand the mounting pressure from a Clermont side that grew in confidence with every minute.
It is now a third week in a row that the URC champions have lost their rhythm after halftime, and while there was the illness to Dan du Plessis (before kickoff) and injuries to Ernst van Rhyn and Gary Porter in the first half, it’s something that Dobson has to address ahead of Saturday’s Champions Cup clash against London Irish at Cape Town Stadium (7.30pm kickoff).
“Critically for me, we just got a bit softer wider on defence. Normally we’re known as a team that can really make reads and fly off the line and cut off people. But I think they got it (the ball) into the 15-metre areas too easily, and once they do that, it means your tight forwards are now on the back foot in the middle of the field, trying to stay on-side,” the Stormers mentor said.
“I think that was a really poor aspect of our performance. We didn’t see a Ruhan Nel, Paul de Wet or Herschel Jantjies style read… We were quite soft there, and they took those yards.
“(Injury disruptions in the pack is) not just about where you jump in the lineout or where you push in the scrum, but also how you fold (on defence) and what your defensive responsibilities in the gate are and stuff like that. So, we were a little bit hotch-potch there.
“I thought we were nervous about their intelligent kicking game… that was really poor in our performance. Having said that, I am not going to make it (about that).
“I know we were under the pump, but if Manie had held that ball, the second turnover, it was a run-in (try). The score would’ve gone out to 21-3, and then with Angelo (Davids) thing, we felt it was maybe worth having another look at…”
While disappointed to let such a lead slip away from home, Dobson is confident that the Stormers will heed the expensive lesson for the rest of the Champions Cup.
“Still, to come to this place and be alive… But we do know that there are some things we need to improve on: exiting, and the defensive pressure wasn’t there. And we need to understand why,” he said.
“There were some exceptionally brave performances: Salmaan Moerat, Deon Fourie, Gary Porter with a broken rib, Kitsie, I thought they were really exceptional.
“I thought the positives would be that this is meant to be the epicentre of French club rugby and their amazing record, and the truth is that we are feeling a hell of a disappointed that we didn’t get a win – which shows that we are at the top table of where we want to be.
“We know what it takes to win European games now, and theoretically, our next three games should not be as hard as what we’ve just been through. So, that’s a reason for optimism, and we have to fix the defensive stuff that I talked about.”
Porter (rib) and Van Rhyn (knee) are unlikely to be fit for the London Irish encounter, but Springboks Frans Malherbe and Marvin Orie should be back after being rested last week.