John Dobson Wants A Battle In Pretoria


Loftus Versfeld will be a colosseum of local support. Thousands of Vodacom Bulls fans will be in full voice. John Dobson’s DHL Stormers players will run out to a Pretoria crowd willing them to lose as the age-old north versus south rivalry writes another 80 minutes of its epic history. And Dobson wants all of this. He wants exactly what he grew up watching and loving about the most intense rivalry in South African rugby. He wants a battle.

“This rivalry is at its best when it’s almost gladiatorial and there’s real needle involved,” says Dobson as he looks ahead to a match that has inspired him, infuriated him, and captivated him since he was a boy, and still does now as a coach in this new era of the Vodacom United Rugby Championship.

On Saturday 18 February at Loftus Versfeld, another chapter will be written in what is the now over 70 years of these two teams throwing everything at each other in the battle for South African rugby dominance. And the excitement in Dobson’s voice is unmistakeable. There’s a sense that he’s not just looking forward to this match. He’s relishing it.

“I read something about the Vodacom Bulls saying they’ve already sold over 10 000 tickets for this match. I actually hope we get to Loftus and there are 40 000 people there booing us, because that will be fantastic theatre. I think it would make for a great spectacle,” Dobson says of the one game of rugby that holds his heart more than any other.

“I grew up watching this rivalry and was mesmerised by it. I can tell you all the scores throughout history between our two teams. I was that scholar at Newlands booing when Naas Botha ran out for what was then Northern Transvaal against Western Province. Or when Western Province captain Morné du Plessis put in the tackle felt around South Africa with a hit on Naas that literally polarised the country. Or the moment when Western Province wing Niel Burger bumped off the great Uli Schmidt. I can remember it all. I know it’s not possible these days, but I still think one of the most beautiful sights in South African rugby is at Craven Week when the light blue jersey of the Blue Bulls plays our Western Province stripes.”

It's a rivalry that certainly has a new edge to it this year. Vodacom Bulls coach Jake White will make his return from emergency abdominal surgery in this game, and with the DHL Stormers enjoying a run of ascendancy over the home side, having won all four of their meetings in the Vodacom United Rugby Championship to date, including the inaugural final.

“I can’t wait for it,” said White, who has his own memories of those early days of Northern Transvaal and Western Province.

“We didn’t have international rugby in those days because of the international sanctions, so provincial rugby was everything. Northern Transvaal was such a dominant team, and I remember as a youngster that it wasn’t often you’d go to Loftus and see Northern Transvaal lose. Everybody at that time wore Northern Transvaal jerseys, and the fanaticism of those Northern Transvaal supporters I saw as a kid is forever etched into my mind.”

“I think Jake will tell you the same thing as I will,” adds Dobson. “This is a top-of-the-table match for the South African teams. A match between two of South African rugby’s oldest rivals with some real spice to it and which will probably decide where the South African Shield in this competition goes.”

“I know the Vodacom Bulls will put everything into this game, and we’re more motivated than ever for it. It’s a 50-50 coin toss and we can’t wait.”

The stage is set, and Dobson and his coaching staff are here for all of it.

“We’re going there for a shootout.”