Super Rugby

No fans? No Newlands? Stormers remain hungry to play again

When they started the 2020 Super Rugby season, the Stormers desperately wanted to go the distance in the tournament to give their fans the perfect Newlands send-off. 

It is the Cape franchise's final year at the iconic stadium before an expected move to the Cape Town Stadium, and saying 'goodbye' in the form of a Super Rugby final was the ultimate aim for coach John Dobson and his charges. 

READ: SA Rugby forced to cancel Craven Week

The campaign started perfectly with four straight wins before losses to the Blues and Sharks followed, but when the global coronavirus crisis brought an abrupt halt to the rugby season, the Stormers were still very much in the hunt to turn their dreams into reality. 

Now, with players trying their best to train at home while waiting for clarity, the goalposts have shifted somewhat. 

There is no indication at this stage when rugby will return, but whenever it does, it will almost certainly have to be hosted behind closed doors initially. That would lead to a situation where Newlands, in its final year, hosts matches with no spectators present. 

It is an almost unthinkable scenario for South Africa's oldest rugby stadium which has been in operation for around 130 years. 

It's also unclear if the rugby on offer will be in the form of a shortened Super Rugby tournament or if South Africa will host its own unique domestic competition, which it is planning for June through to August. 

Including the Kings and Cheetahs has been one reported option, while the other comes in the form of this year's Currie Cup. 

There is also the possibility of whatever tournament is hosted being staged in one location to minimise travel. 

The truth, though, is that everybody is in the dark about what will happen and the only certainty is that players and fans both want rugby to return as soon as possible, even if it has to be played in empty arenas. 

Winning is no longer the only priority.

"For us, getting on the field and playing rugby is about more than just winning that game," Stormers attack coach Dawie Snyman told media in a video interview on Tuesday.

"South Africa needs to see rugby and we're the guys that are on the field.

"We might inspire someone to just get through a bad time and I think that will be a massive motivation for the players to make a difference.

"I don't think they'll mind where they need to go, as long as they can play."

One of the main issues in returning to playing whenever that time comes lies in the fact that sides will still need to spend time together as a group trying to get match ready. 

"We'll have to see where the guys are when we get back. It's one thing to be fit but it's another to have to get contact ready. That will take a few weeks," Snyman added. 

"It's difficult to put a time frame on it because we don't know where the guys are at the moment. We also don't want to get any injuries, so you can't start too fast."

Playing in front of no supporters will also take some getting used to, but the franchises do train at their home stadiums at least once a week already. 

"It will be an adjustment for players to play in front of an empty stadium and it's something we'll have to address closer to that time," Snyman said.

"It's always awesome to get a bit of atmosphere at the ground, but it's probably about focusing on your game and not the outside factors."

Any rugby, after all, would be better than no rugby. 

The 2020 Super Rugby final was due to take place on 20 June. 

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