Dobbo’s Diary: Durban derby will be a thriller

PUBLISHED: February 3, 2023

It has been a heck of a week for me personally, having lost my voice, but it has been business as usual for the rest of the group as the players, coaches and management continue to adapt to a schedule in which temperatures can be two degrees one week when playing up north and 30 degrees the next when back in South Africa.

We as a group are not unique in this regard and the league structure means that every team faces the same challenge. Add Durban’s humidity to the mix and by the end of the year, we’d have experienced every type of playing conditions.

The circumstances, however tough, does mature the players and makes for a more prepared and battle-hardened individual who gets picked for the Springboks.

I was very impressed with the Cell C Sharks against Edinburgh. To get the win was huge and their defence for the last seven minutes showcased the character of their players. They refused to lose, and they repelled every home team attack. They held their shape so well and that took discipline, but it also showed the desire of the players to win.

I have respect for every team we play, but there is always that extra edge when we go to Durban or they come to Cape Town. Many individuals over the years have played for both franchises and the coastal rivalry is real.

They’re a good bunch of okes and the players from both squads get on well and many are mates from playing at the Springboks.
Half the pack, at its strongest and when all the Boks are available, have worn a DHL Stormers jersey and our lock Ruben van Heerden will get his first taste of playing against his former teammates.

The afternoon kick-off of 14h00 is also very different to an early evening match in Durban, where the humidity can turn a rugby ball into a bar of soap.

Both teams have an attacking mindset, which doesn’t mean either is lacking defensively. So many of our league victories in our title-winning season were on the back of defence and I have already mentioned the defensive effort of the Sharks to get the win in Scotland.

Several top Springboks won’t feature in Saturday’s match because of the national resting policy and gametime player management, but there is a lot of quality in the line-ups of both teams.

We took a young squad to Belfast and I took plenty of positives from how the forwards, in particular, scrapped for the 80 minutes. The average age of the pack that finished our match against Ulster was 22.

Perspective is so important when assessing a season in which we are playing in two competitions and managing national player game time and introducing so many young guns to the league.

We currently are second in the league and will host Harlequins in the last 16 of the Champions Cup. If you had given me that scenario before the season started, I would have been gracious in accepting it and I would have been in a buoyant mood.

So, yes, I am feeling buoyant about what we have achieved so far this season, and that is not to be interpreted as feeling bullish or arrogant.

It took a big come from behind effort to earn a 22-all league draw in Durban last season and it proved definitive in our league season.

Hopefully we start better this time, and a good start brings us a winning result.

The DHL Stormers were this week named the SA Team of the Year, and it is acknowledgement for what the boys achieved on the field, but the success extends beyond the players. We have coaches and a management group that gives so much and adds such value.

I always talk of us being a group and not a team in which 15 start and finish a match.

The honour of Team of the Year goes to that group and to the best support base in world rugby.

Chat next week.