VIDEO: Boxing Day rugby on the cards?
SPOTLIGHT: Stormers coach John Dobson has opened up about the ‘terrible’ balancing act and challenges of coaching as South African teams finally emerge from the COVID-19-enforced lockdown.
Dobson, speaking in a virtual media briefing, suggested that hopes of a return to play will be pushed well beyond the end-of-August date the was initially proposed.
He added that mid-September seems a more likely start date for the proposed eight-team Currie Cup competition.
However, this could result in the competition running past Christmas – including Boxing Day matches – if SA Rugby opts for the preferred double round.
Dobson described the team’s return to training, since last week, as a “curious environment” for the players.
“The stacks are just crossing each other,” the coach said.
“However, the guys are so relieved to not be running just by themselves.
“It would be nice once we are in a bigger group, but it is powerful for the players to meet in groups of four and five and the coaching staff as well.
“There is very good energy and I am really excited.”
Despite all the gusto and sprightful nature of training, there remains uncertainty around when they will actually get to play.
“My gut-feel and this is purely gut-feel, from where we were looking at the end of August, that has been pushed back a couple of weeks,” Dobson told the media briefing.
He said the reality is now that they are looking at a mid-September start.
“If we go double round, eight teams, we will be playing beyond Christmas,” the coach said.
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If the Springboks do go to the Rugby Championship and take around 45 players, it will deplete the domestic resources even further – another concern for local coaches.
“If we do go to the Rugby Championship and some of it is outside the Test window, the numbers from this union [Stormers/Western Province] could be in the high teens.
“We can’t fall back on our club resources, as they haven’t played this year.
“We will do our best with our dept at Under-21 and Under-20, [but] it is a terrible balancing act.
“You could have this fantastic Currie Cup and then suddenly it [your resources] gets stripped out.
“However, at this stage, we don’t know what the product [competition] will look like in South Africa.”
He added that COVID-19 also impact on their succession planning, as players they had hoped to bring through are now left in limbo with no rugby.
“We are losing an entire year of these players’ development,” he said
The other big concern is to the proposal of playing in a bio-bubble – whether it be a single round (seven weeks) or double round (three months).
“Mentally the bio-bubble, for such a long competition, is really tough. Three months in one place, mentally you will ask a lot of the players.
“One of SA Rugby’s concerns is the mental toll it will take on the players.
“I would prefer that it is not a bio-bubble, but we would take anything right now. It is important that we play.”
Dobson said he must be careful not to come across as criticising anything, because it is such uncharted territory.
“SA Rugby is doing their best, but I really think it is going to be a tough ask.”