If a picture is worth a thousand words, the screenshot on social media of a beleaguered Robbie Fleck in the coaches’ box during the Stormers’ 40-3 mauling by the Bulls is worth a million.
The Stormers failed to match the intensity and skills of the Bulls at Loftus Versfeld in their Super Rugby opener, following a preseason overshadowed by a power struggle among officials. Reports also emerged that the Cape side didn’t play in their Marvel-inspired Thor jerseys at Loftus due to a dispute between players and management on the team bus.
It was the worst possible start to this year’s campaign for Fleck, whose team failed to win away from home in 2018 and missed out on the playoffs, and he is under increasing pressure in the final year of his contract at Newlands.
The Stormers are loaded with Springboks, including Bok captain Siya Kolisi, 2018 SA Rugby Player of the Year Pieter-Steph du Toit and enforcer Eben Etzebeth, as well as X-factor players Damian Willemse and Sergeal Petersen. But with every defeat, ‘Fleckie’ faces renewed criticism of his coaching ability.
Western Province coach John Dobson is the front-runner for a promotion if Fleck gets the boot, especially after ‘Dobbo’ was recently linked with the Bulls and Irish Pro14 side Connacht.
He coached WP to the Currie Cup title in 2017, only to be beaten by the Sharks in the 2018 final after winning six matches on the trot in a shortened competition. His WP side also went unbeaten in the inaugural SuperSport Challenge in 2017, and dominated the round-robin stage of the 2018 edition.
Dobson has worked closely with the Stormers, where the breakdown was his area of expertise, but has shown that he is capable of a lot more. The former UCT coach would also be a cost-effective replacement for Fleck – Dobson signed a three-year extension with the cash-strapped WP Rugby union at the end of 2017.
Given the off-field troubles at WP Rugby, a poor 2019 season for the Stormers is likely to see more players join Kolisi, Du Toit, Etzebeth, Damian de Allende, Steven Kitshoff and Frans Malherbe on the list of high-profile stars expected to leave South Africa after the 2019 World Cup.
If unveiled as Fleck’s replacement, Dobson – who has built a culture of brotherhood and success with WP – could convince the likes of Sikhumbuzo Notshe, Bongi Mbonambi, JD Schickerling, Dillyn Leyds and Wilco Louw to stay in the Cape. The WP boss also has a good working relationship with up-and-comers Juarno Augustus, Ruhan Nel, Kobus van Dyk, Ernst van Rhyn, Herschel Jantjies, Dan Kriel and Josh Stander, who have been instrumental to the Streeptruie’s success over the last two years.
In English Premier League football, Manchester United’s caretaker manager Ole Gunnar Solskjær has been a breath of fresh air for his former club, the Norwegian coach reviving stars such as Paul Pogba to win 11 of 13 matches since his appointment in December.
Dobson, too, could be the gust of wind that the Stormers desperately need to fill their sails.
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Devin Hermanus works in the SA media industry, eats chocolate cereal for dessert, plays darts in the dark, and hits the snooze button before waking up. Follow him on Twitter: @DevinMyles11