John Dobson during a Stormers training session in Cape Town. Picture: ASHLEY VLOTMAN/GALLO IMAGES
John Dobson during a Stormers training session in Cape Town. Picture: ASHLEY VLOTMAN/GALLO IMAGES

It is undoubtedly the most eagerly anticipated New Zealand derby ever.

The prospect of the Highlanders hosting the Chiefs in sleepy Dunedin has everybody drooling‚ including Stormers coach John Dobson.

Super Rugby‚ which has been in limbo due to Covid-19 restrictions since the second week of March‚ returns under a much revised format with New Zealand’s franchises engaged in combat from Saturday.

Dobson is salivating‚ not just at the prospect of seeing live sport for his mental wellbeing‚ but because of what he can glean from the game’s trendsetters.

“For us it is absolute gold. Not just to keep from insanity but the technical things. They have always been the best at the breakdown and while there are no new laws, they are going to blow the laws‚” Dobson said of the intricacies he is likely to fastidiously jot down.

The ruck‚ in particular‚ will command his attention.

“What happens at the breakdown will be really interesting. People have to come through the gate‚ the stealer doesn’t have to survive the clean out, and the carrier can’t misbehave too much on the ground.

“They are always the best at it. It does give us a bit of an advantage if we can start prepping watching that‚” said Dobson.

On that issue, SA’s franchises can do with all the help they can get.

Due to SA’s higher number of coronavirus cases, the country’s players will be well behind their Antipodean counterparts in returning to training and competition.

Here players still have to practise social distancing, and Dobson fears they may not be properly conditioned for high-intensity battle in the time available between getting the green light and the resumption of competition.

“Whatever we are doing now isn’t reducing the six to eight weeks lead-up for when we know we’re playing,” he said.

“At the moment there’s no contact‚ you can’t even pass a ball. The work we are doing now isn’t shortening our return to play.”

The frustration at the Stormers is by no means unique.

“I actually had a chat with Sean Everitt at the Sharks and he said something similar‚” said Dobson. “The players are pretty frustrated. There was a lot of optimism around returning in August and competition formats‚ but there is a very strong proviso to it.

“We have to wait before we get the go-ahead to start training. The reality is six to eight weeks’ build-up is needed. We aren’t allowed to get into groups of five yet.”

Injury will be a real risk and there is already evidence to suggest players are venturing into unknown territory.

“We’ve already seen in the Bundesliga where the injuries they suffered were three times the normal number. Ideally you want a friendly two weeks before you play competition,” Dobson noted.

“Say we are playing in August‚ we have a friendly in July and now we’re already in the middle of June.

“Even if we get the green light on Monday, how do we get the guys ready for a friendly?” he wondered.

Dobson has similar fears for the Springboks should they become part of a revised Rugby Championship played entirely in a central hub in Australia, as has been suggested.

“This is probably not for me to comment on, but the Springboks would be a massive concern if they go into a bubble and quarantine.

“How are they possibly going to be ready to play a game when the other guys are [already] playing rugby? Then the injuries become a spectre. If you rope in other guys the competition’s meaning falls away. It is very tricky‚” warned Dobson.

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