Would John Dobson's Stormers, under pre-coronavirus circumstances, have bettered statistically in 2020 the showing of Robbie Fleck in his final season as head coach of the franchise last year?
It is a question that will probably not now receive an answer.
All that is possible is a comparison between where they were at the same point (six matches) into their respective campaigns: Dobson stood at four wins and two defeats when the tournament was suspended; Fleck had posted three victories and three reverses in 2019 to trail his successor by one positive outcome ... en route to a season where his charges ended a disappointing 10th overall.
But it’s also hardly an apples v apples comparison: the 2019 Stormers were in the midst of their ever-hazardous main overseas tour, which had already seen them beaten in each of their first two matches (Hurricanes and Blues), whereas the present side haven’t yet set foot outside the country.
Fleck had taken a serious opening-round “klap” against the Bulls at Loftus (40-3), yet also bounced back to beat the Lions at home, Sharks away and Jaguares at home straight after the fiasco.
Dobson got off with a relative bang this year, sporting a 100 percent record from four rounds – even if the brand of rugby certainly wasn’t consistently enthralling in doing so - but then seeing a significant correction, if you like, with that insipid, big home loss to the Blues and defeat in a Kings Park derby.
Nevertheless, even if the 2020 competition sees no further light of day, the incumbent will be able to point to the fact that his team were in the “playoffs zone” at the halt ... in seventh overall.
Whether the current Stormers had evolved in any way in the oft-stated quest to bring back a “Province rugby” sort of ethic (one based strongly on entertainment value) to cash-strapped Newlands is probably also not very fairly judged after half a dozen fixtures under a new regime, is it?
The initial signs have not been that positive, with tries and flowing rugby in modest supply, although the resilient, well-structured defensive principles of both the prior Fleck and Allister Coetzee eras have been in evidence agreeably enough.
Somehow the impressive enough parts, on paper, have not added up yet to a heart-warmingly compelling whole, with at least part of the drawback being that Damian Willemse, the most regularly-deployed flyhalf, increasingly battled for confidence and precision despite his numerous gifts and could not always provide the metronomic, dictatorial qualities clearly sought at times from a No 10 operating behind a strong, Springbok-laden pack.
On the topic of that forward unit, Dobson became increasingly (and quite savagely) stunted in his goals by the drop-like-flies hallmark that took root from an injury point of view.
It was beyond bleak, after those six outings, that the toll had increasingly swollen to eventually include, on a long-term basis, all of World Cup-winning heroes Steven Kitshoff, Bongi Mbonambi, Siya Kolisi and Pieter-Steph du Toit.
Indeed, it is highly possible - given that the hoodoo affected other, slightly less trumpeted but still valuable players in the squad - that the Stormers’ glaring lack of depth in certain berths was going to be exposed in a major way (read: potentially in the results column?) had the competition continued on its more routine course.
“Dobbo” has a delightful eccentricity, a human intelligence that goes well beyond the confines of rugby, and his already renowned, disarming honesty - a journalist’s dream - only carried over into his early days at the Stormers’ tiller.
He takes responsibility flush on the chin, and has confessed a need to shake things up a little, strategically, should there be any resumption of hostilities before too long.
If I wanted to be nit-picky, I would probably give Dobson a score of 6.25 at this juncture, feeling that six would be a touch too low and 6.5 a wee bit generous ... but he sneaks the latter on the basis that his Stormers were “at the races” when the suspension came, and his reign was still in relative infancy and at developmental stage in a Capetonian set-up enduringly impeded by certain boardroom tensions.
The Stormers were running with a two-thirds record; so why not a pretty direct transfer into Dobson’s tally?
Dobson’s rating: 6.5/10
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