United Rugby Championship: John Dobson says ‘Leinster is the Crusaders of the north’

David Skippers
Leo Cullen and John Dobson pic URC 2023.jpg

Stormers head coach John Dobson believes his team will have to be at their best when they face Leinster in Dublin on Friday and has compared the Irish province to Super Rugby Pacific champions the Crusaders.

Dobson and Leinster head coach Leo Cullen both recommitted to their respective sides on a long-term basis recently and there is plenty of hype ahead of their impending clash at the RDS Arena.

It will only be the second time these teams have faced each other, with the Stormers heading into Friday’s clash with the better record in the budding rivalry after sealing a 20-13 victory over an understrength Leinster outfit in Cape Town last season.

That was a Round 17 clash and the Stormers went on to win the inaugural United Rugby Championship after clinching a narrow victory in the final over the Bulls, who claimed a shock triumph over Leinster in their semi-final at the RDS Arena.

Friday’s encounter between Leinster and the Stormers pits two great coaches against each other and both Cullen and Dobson have a special affinity with their respective sides.

Cullen was raised near Dublin and spent most of his playing career with Leinster. The former second-row represented the Irish province on 219 occasions over two spells – he also played for Leicester Tigers for two years in between – and was Leinster’s skipper when they won three Champions Cup titles during his second stint between 2007 and 2014, becoming the first player to do so.

After retiring in 2014, Cullen became Leinster’s forwards coach before he was named head coach in 2015.

Successful transition from player to coach

He has also enjoyed great success as a coach and as he became the first person to win Champions Cup as a player and a coach in 2018. The 45-year-old also guided the Irish province to successive title wins in the PRO14 in 2018, 2019, 2020 and 2021.

Meanwhile, Dobson had a modest career as a player – where he played as a hooker mostly for his club side the University of Cape Town – but soon made a name for himself as a coach at Western Province where had success at U21 and Vodacom Cup levels before guiding WP to a shock victory in the 2017 Currie Cup final against the Sharks in Durban.

He is looking forward to the challenge of taking on Leinster in what should be a thrilling battle between two of the powerhouses of the northern and southern hemispheres.

“For me the benchmark in the south has always been the Crusaders and I see Leinster as the Crusaders of the north. They set the standard and they are what we as the DHL Stormers want to be in terms of success and continuity,” said Dobson.

“I have huge admiration for what Leo has achieved as a player and a coach and massive respect for Leinster as one of the leading lights in world club rugby.

“It is going to be a massive challenge for us on Friday but it will give our players an indication of where they are in terms of defending the title.

“To go to Dublin and win is the biggest away achievement and that is why I rated Jake’s (White) Vodacom Bulls semi-final win against Leinster as the match of the league. We hope to emulate that wonderful achievement, and if not on Friday, then in the final.”

READ MORE: United Rugby Championship: John Dobson delighted with Clayton Blommetjies’ impact at Stormers