'They weren't given a chance; that's the best thing' - ex-Stormers captain Chris van Zyl

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The Stormers lift the South Africa Shield during the United Rugby Championship match between the Scarlets and Stormers at Parc y Scarlets on May 21, 2022. (Photo by Athena Pictures/Getty Images)
The Stormers lift the South Africa Shield during the United Rugby Championship match between the Scarlets and Stormers at Parc y Scarlets on May 21, 2022. (Photo by Athena Pictures/Getty Images)
  • Former Stormers captain Chris van Zyl says being counted out was the ideal position the Stormers could have asked for in the URC.
  • The retired former lock says John Dobson and Co. could do their business quietly but effectively in the background.
  • Van Zyl also believes they can go all the way, even win the URC, after overcoming incredible odds to win the SA Shield.

Former Stormers and Western Province captain Chris van Zyl says that being counted out before the competition began was the ideal position the Stormers wanted to quietly go about their business in the inaugural United Rugby Championship (URC).

The Stormers won the SA Shield last weekend after beating Scarlets in Llanelli thanks to a late Ruhan Nel try after the Sharks floundered against Ulster a day earlier.

It wasn't just that they lost Springbok captain Siya Kolisi and his World Cup-winning rockstars Bongi Mbonambi and Pieter-Steph du Toit.

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But, as John Dobson illustrated in his big interview with Sport24's Rob Houwing, they had to contend with uncertainty over salary payments, having no CEO or director of rugby since Paul Zacks and Gert Smal departed as their controlling union (Western Province) slumped into administration.

They were also comfortably outdone in the transfer market by their nearest rivals, the Sharks and Bulls - Dobson described them as "window shoppers" while the Sharks scooped former Stormer Eben Etzebeth.

Van Zyl, though, says the less-than-underdog tag attached to Dobson and company somewhat suited them.

They went about their business unnoticed until they started picking off some big scalps, like the Bulls at Lofts and the Sharks in Cape Town.

"There's been quite a lot going on regarding other unions and the number of power signings they've made and them being on a proper acquisition trail," Van Zyl tells Sport24.

"During the season, it seemed like the Stormers were just in the background, getting on with their business and giving the guys they had the best opportunity they could.

"I think that position fitted in so well with 'Dobbo' and how he operates, as well as Norman (Laker) and Dawie Snyman. Knowing them and all the players there, I'm incredibly proud of how they've gone about their business.

"They didn't have the most ideal start, but they would have built a narrative around that, 'people can write us off, but we believe in what we've got internally and in what we're going to be able to create this year'.

"From there, they built momentum. On top of that, they're playing a very good brand of rugby and something that I can be really proud of as a Stormers and Province fan."

Van Zyl adds: "The other part of this story is that the union has been quite settled for the first time in a while. It's been out of the news for non-rugby issues for some time.

"I think it's giving the backroom staff the clarity to just coach. That's paid dividends. You can't ignore the fact that, even under administration, the results have gone quite well."

The Stormers host Edinburgh in the URC quarter-finals next weekend after finishing second on the log to Irish giants Leinster, who face La Rochelle this weekend in the European Champions Cup final.

"They will have a nothing-to-lose attitude and go out there and express themselves. I have no doubt they could be the first URC champions."

They've blitzed through the field in 2022, playing some sumptuous rugby, losing only to Connacht away from home this calendar year.

The Warrick Gelant, Damian Willemse and Manie Libbok backline trident has also set tongues wagging in the process.

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"I don't know what their current mantra or theme is, but before, it was about getting Cape Town smiling; not only winning but the way we played," says Van Zyl.

"It was all about getting back to those days of running rugby. I think we lost ourselves during the transition, maybe. But it's clear that they've found themselves with a very clever balance.

"It's fantastic to see guys I played with come into their own. I think Damian Willemse has been fantastic at 12 and it's so great to see Manie has been given an opportunity and backed by the coaches and he's taken it with both hands.

"Those are the best stories. Their URC journey inspires me because I know the management and players and I'm proud of them."

Van Zyl is also pretty bullish about the Capetonians' chances in the rest of the tournament, tipping them to make the final, likely against Leinster.

"I have no doubt that they can go to the final, 100%," he says.

"My prediction is that it will be a Leinster-Stormers final and what happens in that final [is anyone's guess]. I have no doubt that the way 'Dobbo' and 'Kitshie' (captain Steven Kitshoff) and the leadership group operate, they will have the capacity to win this tournament.

"The best part about it will be, just as the season narrative has been, that they've not been given a chance, that could be the same sentiment for the final. And that would be the best thing for the Stormers.

"They will have a nothing-to-lose attitude and go out there and express themselves. I have no doubt they could be the first URC champions." 


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