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Q&A with John Dobson

PUBLISHED: April 24, 2013

The DHL WP Vodacom Cup team has qualified for the play-offs yet again – for the third season in a row under coach John Dobson.

Dobson, of course, guided Province to the 2012 Vodacom Cup title, having also lifted the Provincial Under-21 title with WP during his first season in charge at junior level in 2010.

The former Ikey Tigers coach, with assistants Dawie Snyman and Labeeb Levy and conditioning coach Charl Malherbe working alongside him, has now taken every one of his WP teams in to play-off rugby. And the Vodacom Cup team, under his guidance, has just one league match and one play-off match in three years of Vodacom Cup rugby.

The new-look website caught up with Dobson ahead of this weekend’s Vodacom Cup clash in Bloemfontein – a must-win match for this young DHL WP squad.


(1) John, you must be pretty pleased with your current position on the log – especially the start to the season. You still have a chance of topping the log?
“Yes… but we could also come fourth! The tough start was losing that game with a conversion after the hooter when we were down to 12 players (against the Sharks) – our first-ever home loss in the league phase of the Vodacom Cup. But we have come together nicely since then and putting 40 points on the Kings in PE the game after that was a great comeback and getting 19 from a possible 20 points since then is great. We can top the log, but if we lose on Saturday against a good Free State side, then we will end up with an away quarterfinal – something we have never had before.”

(2) Speaking of which, you have a pretty good record in the Vodacom Cup.
“Well, this management team have lost only one league game in this competition in three years, which is something to be proud of. I only hope that loss record is not doubled on Saturday night! But those sort of records are vain. What makes me happy this season is the facts that we: (1) Are the youngest team in the competition; (2) Are after Boland, the most transformed team; (3) Have the most amateur/club players in our set-up. All of this makes me very proud.”

(4) As a former Varsity Cup coach, how do you find the Vodacom Cup?
“We enjoy it. I know it is not a sexy competition – there are no pink balls and/or Fans that Rock, but it’s a high level of rugby. The reality is that it’s hard to go from club or Varsity Cup rugby to Vodacom Super Rugby. Very few Super Rugby coaches would see that as feasible, so we provide a vital bridging role. But in a union like ours it allows us to provide opportunities to young, promising and club players as well as doing our core function which is to add to the depth of the DHL Stormers and (to) provide their reserve strength in what is now a long and gruelling Super Rugby format.”

(4) You have said before it’s a complex team. How so?
“It’s complex to choose because you must balance several imperatives, all of which are good and I agree with. You have to do what the DHL Stormers need as our core function, so if they need Brok Harris to play loosehead for us, obviously we must do that. Then we must develop players for Super Rugby and the Absa Currie Cup. Then we must bring our talented youngsters through and get them ready for high performance rugby. The team is also a vital transformation vehicle and we must also use this team to bring our best amateur/club players through and provide this pathway through to pro rugby and the Blue & White stripes, that our President is rightly so passionate about. Then we also have to make sure the contracted players are earning their keep and on top of all this we must win! It’s complex, but hopefully, as I mentioned earlier, we are by and large, achieving those goals.”

(5) How do you cope with the guys who are perhaps disappointed not to be playing for the DHL Stormers?
“Well that’s our first job and the first step to doing well in a Vodacom Cup campaign – to make it a happy team and to make those disappointed players excited and get them to realise their only way back to or into the DHL Stormers is by doing well and giving their all in the Vodacom Cup. This team is the official DHL Western Province team at this time of year and every time you pull those Blue & White stripes over your head and wear that Disa on your chest you are privileged and have a responsibility. You are representing the greatest union.”

(6) Do you believe that?
“Of course. WP is unbelievable. Not only do we have this successful and proud history, but we are such a diverse passionate union. We have the best supported teams (in all of Super- and Currie Cup rugby) in terms of fans’ passion which is unbelievable, we have amongst the most players and clubs, the best club leagues, the best school system. Our most amazing diversity is a huge opportunity in that the richness in this is something no other union can match.”

(7) How have you found working in the Union?
“We have the most amazing support from the Union, the President and his Executive, the CEO and his staff. The whole Exco is pretty much at every one of our games, screaming their lungs out. And this makes us proud. The way that they got behind us last year was instrumental in our success. But this is done, as Mr Wakefield keeps us on the straight and narrow, through the imperatives that I listed above and, of course, we are aware of our responsibilities. Of course, whenever you choose a rugby team you cannot please all the people, but I assure you we do our very best. It’s a diverse union and whilst it’s our strength, you are not going to satisfy every interest group but as long as we can all look at each other in the changing-room afterwards and say that this week we did our best for Province.”

(8) Were you always a WP fan?
“Born and bred! I had a scholars’ season ticket at Newlands from since I can (barely!) remember. I was also lucky enough, in those dark days, to come from an enlightened family so my father also ensured I saw SARU rugby. I can remember in 1989 watching a Currie Cup Final and an SA Cup Final (on the same weekend). For me, coaching at Western Province is an honour, a privilege and a responsibility.”

(9) Did you play within Western Province?
“Yes… but not very well! I played for UCT where I studied and a season for Villager’s, so I am sad that such a great club is facing some tough times. I also played for Northerns in Elsie’s River. I was a youngster and I felt I needed to broaden my mind beyond the Ivory tower. It was important to appreciate the amazing sacrifices that some players went through to play this great game – some things that some people take for granted. I was lucky enough to also play some rugby in Italy and then, when I got even worse (!), Portugal.”

(10) Thanks John, good luck on Saturday!
“My pleasure and, really, I must thank everyone (the Faithful in Cape Town, those that make the special effort to come to our away matches) for the great support out there. It really means a lot to us.”