Why the Stormers have to be ‘slightly careful’ with their returning Rugby World Cup winners

Dylan Coetzee
Stormers stars Damian Willemse, Manie Libbok and Warrick Gelant during a game.

Stormers stars Damian Willemse, Manie Libbok and Warrick Gelant during a game.

Stormers boss John Dobson admits it is a difficult decision in how he is going to bring his Rugby World Cup winners back into the fold.

It has been a tough start to the United Rugby Championship campaign for the Stormers having only won two from six games so far, including a winless tour of the north.

They have had to do this without their Springboks Deon Fourie, Manie Libbok, Damian Willemse and Frans Malherbe.

A big month ahead

Their superstars have now returned to the fold and will be available for selection ahead of a very busy December filled with local derbies and some clashes with Europe’s best in the Champions Cup leaving head coach Dobson with a massive selection headache.

Dobson admits managing the re-integration of his Test stars is a balancing act, one that would have been much easier if the side made a better start to the season.

“We have to be slightly careful with how we give them game time. They have been off after the World Cup, relaxing fairly hard for a while,” Dobson said.

“It’s more about perhaps not pushing Manie for 80 minutes, but deciding between giving him 20 minutes off the bench or we could start with him, controlling his minutes and sub him.

“I think they do need to get some rust off, maybe not all of them. Certainly, Manie and Damian need to shake some rust off. We just need to manage it.

“I don’t think they can go from zero to 80, but I’m not going to keep them in cotton wool and throw them into an away game against Leicester or the game against La Rochelle. That wouldn’t be fair. They need a bit of a run at home.”

Key stars

The coach admits the team has missed what he calls “game drivers” and revealed that Fourie is ready to go despite some personal grief.

“That’s probably where we have struggled the most as a collective. Having game drivers like Manie or a real warrior who can lead by example like Deon, he is huge from a leadership point of view,” Dobson said.

“Deon has been through one of the craziest six weeks. He won a World Cup, his father passed away, he has just come back from the funeral.

“We offered him more time away, but he wants to play rugby. Just seeing him out there in the field, knowing who he is and what he’s done, has given us a massive bit of confidence.”

Standard setters

It’s not just the addition of quality to the team that the Springboks bring but also the influence they have on the squad as revealed by lock Ruben van Heerden.

“You can never underestimate the presence of the Springboks,” Van Heerden said. “You can already see guys like Manie and Damian, Deon, just their presence in the team that brings a certain standard. If you don’t live up to that standard, they will call you out on it.

“That’s definitely something that we need. It’s amazing having those guys back.”

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