Stormers coach John Dobson did not know whether to laugh or cry after his team had snapped a four-game losing streak by beating Zebre 31-7 on Saturday night but had done it in the most painful of fashions.
“Mixed feelings, that is the best way to put it,” Dobson said.
“The performance was pretty par. We knew this team would not be cohesive (because of several changes, including the Stormers’ returning Springboks) but I expected us to be better than that.”
The coach felt that the game struggled to get going, with too many breaks in play, and spectators would not disagree.
“There was one scrum in particular that took four minutes, from when the whistle went till it got out of the scrum,” Dobson lamented. “Those kinds of stoppages took the life out of the game and we were not able to fatigue them as planned.”
The coach said that the evening for the home team was summed up when Hacjivah Dayimani rounded a host of defenders and with the tryline beckoning, inexplicably dropped the ball.
“We left four tries out there but my only real concern is our defence in the first half. We pride ourselves in getting off the line to make tackles but we were not our usual selves in that regard.”
Dobson borrowed from cricket parlance to describe where he feels his team currently is.
“The guys are desperate. In cricket, when you are out of form, you try too hard and you get deeper out of form, and that is where we are. But it is going to change, there is no question about it. You saw signs of it Saturday.”
Dobson said that a crucial aspect is that key personnel have returned and had some good game time.
“Our 10 and 12 (Manie Libbok and Damian Willemse) last played for us in May, that is seven months ago. They are our two main game drivers.
“I don’t think it is a secret that the team that played tonight is pretty much the line-up that will take on La Rochelle in the Champions Cup game in Cape Town, which is massively important to us. We have learned from last year that winning your home games is non-negotiable in this tournament.
“The statistics confirm that emphatically – you just can’t lose at home.”
That game against the champions La Rochelle is on December 16 and before that, the Stormers play England’s Leicester on Sunday.
In light of what Dobson said about winning your home games, he was asked if he would rest players for this week’s match in England.
“You are sending me down a rabbit hole by asking questions like that,” Dobson said, laughing.
“Does it make sense to send a guy like Deon Fourie to Leicester via Mogadishu and then six days later have him back in Cape Town for a huge match against La Rochelle?
“We have been working backward from the La Rochelle game for some time now. Brannas (Fourie), Damian and Manie all got time (off) and they will be better for it, as will the team.”
Dobson’s captain, Neethling Fouche, said the Stormers had turned the corner.
“We are 50% there,” the prop said.
“The guys in the change room are the ones that are going to turn it around and they will because the attitude is right. Good teams go through dips, but we will find each other. The guys care.
“Dobbo always says you can make errors because that is rugby but effort is non-negotiable. It looks like we are overplaying at times, but the passes were sticking last year and we were being praised. It will happen.”