United Rugby Championship

Dobson on Stormers' stocks: 'We must find another five lock'

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Marvin Orie during a Stormers training session at the High Performance Centre in Bellville. (Photo by Grant Pitcher/Gallo Images)
Marvin Orie during a Stormers training session at the High Performance Centre in Bellville. (Photo by Grant Pitcher/Gallo Images)

Marvin Orie or bust ... that has been the Stormers’ near-routine predicament during the United Rugby Championship to this point, and warning signs are flashing.

"You know, at five, every week the medical guys send me a red flag around Marvin, the amount he has to play," head coach John Dobson admitted in a multipronged interview this week with Sport24, only days after their success in winning the URC’s SA Shield and finishing second overall after ordinary season.

"I am having to field Marvin for just about 80 minutes of every game, week in and week out."

The franchise acquired the 29-year-old Orie from the Lions early last year and the seven-cap Springbok very quickly became their middle-of-lineout general, especially as several equivalent players in the Capetonian fold headed to the exit door for varying reasons.

In the space of a few months, for example, they gave up prize international utility forward Pieter-Steph du Toit - as comfortable at five as he has become as a deadly international blindside flanker - to Toyota Verblitz in Japan, and similarly bade reluctant goodbyes to the 2.06m David Meihuizen and 2.03m JD Schickerling.

Meihuizen, who had once seemed on course to qualify as a Scottish Test player, was forced into cruel, early retirement at just 24 by concussion-related issues.

Meanwhile Schickerling, his own progress occasionally curtailed by major injury disruptions, left for the slightly less abrasive climes of Japan (Kobe Steelers) toward the end of last year.

Dobson is all too aware that the Stormers’ remaining lock resources are a little lopsidedly geared more toward the No 4 "front" role.

"Both Adre Smith and Salmaan Moerat are very much four-style guys. Ernst van Rhyn covers that position and BJ (Ben-Jason Dixon) too.

"So bolstering depth at five is essential ... we must make a move there before next season."

But Dobson is also aware of a mounting shortfall around inside centre and fullback in the back division - particularly as the consistently impressive Damian Willemse seems earmarked for busy Bok squad activity during 2022.

"We are definitely light around the 12/15 area once (versatile Willemse) is off with the Boks, and with Warrick Gelant leaving.

"I am disappointed with the Rikus (Pretorius) decision to go to Japan, too ... he has had big Springbok dreams and he could have got there.

"We probably retarded that quest a bit with (seasoned Welsh international) Jamie Roberts coming in during Super Rugby 2020, then the pandemic.

"The big thing about the pandemic was we were playing one-competition rugby, so the younger guys never got proper game-time. It’s hard to be capped from Japan; I am very disappointed he goes."

Dobson also appears to have been finally won over to the principle of Willemse becoming a more permanent fixture at No 12.

"When he’s available to us, I do see Damian not floating between 15 and 12 nowadays ... I think the right thing, especially with Rikus going, is Damian (settling) at 12, while we have Clayton Blommetjies (from the Cheetahs) arriving as a good home-guard at fullback.

"It’s become ever clearer, Damian’s level of play at 12 is fantastic. We know all about his step, but his defence, the way he chases kicks, the aerials, the bravery there ... it's been remarkable.

"But we’re still then one player light, really - losing Warrick is a heavy blow - and we need to address this also.“Five, fifteen, twelve ... they are areas we must seek to stiffen up in."

The mastermind is, however, excited about the medium-term future in the all-important front row, where the arsenal was bolstered further a few days ago with the signing from Bordeaux of emerging Bok hooker factor Joseph Dweba.

"We’ve got a brilliant mix with the props, for example. Frans Malherbe will go off with the Boks after (URC 2021/22 is completed), and then Neethling Fouche should become a Springbok in the next cycle. On that tighthead side there’s also a younger Sazi (Sandi) and others.

A perfect mix.

"At loosehead, behind Kitsie (captain Steven Kitshoff) you’ve got Brok (Harris) who can swing both ways, and Ali Vermaak who I have always rated highly … plus really good younger guys like Kwenzo (Blose) and Leon (Lyons).

"Hooker was essential; once you can go Dweba and Scarra Ntubeni as your (frontline) two, and then have an up-and-coming Andre-Hugo Venter and JJ (Kotze), it’s a good situation."

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