Cape Town Stadium. (Photo by Carl Fourie/Gallo Images)
- Thirty-thousand Stormers fans voted with their feet on Saturday, shunning the WP clubs’ protest but turning out strong in their numbers inside Cape Town Stadium.
- The 30 701 that witnessed the Stormers edge the Sharks 29-23 in the URC trumped the apparent “28” that formed part of the disillusioned few.
- In the build-up, a disgruntled group of Western Province- affiliated clubs intended to demonstrate against the SA Rugby-enforced administration.
Thirty-thousand fans inside the stadium, 28 “protesters” outside.
There could hardly be a bigger statement telling rugby administrators in Cape Town that people are more into the actual sport above the politics of the sport than the one made by 30 701 Stormers fans at Cape Town Stadium on Saturday.
In the end, the “protest” against mother body SA Rugby’s administration of the Stormers’ parent union, Western Province, drew what some witnesses said were about 28 protesters.
All week, a disgruntled group of Western Province- affiliated clubs was intent on making a statement two hours before the Stormers hosted the Sharks in the United Rugby Championship (URC) by staging a march outside.
Some said the number was above, saying 60 people showed up from 26 different affiliates, while IOL reported “over 50 picketers” attended the march.
READ | Casual Stormers nearly collapse but squeak past Sharks in URC cliff-hanger
But the game wasn’t to be overshadowed as the Stormers recorded the most number of fans since the 30 300-odd in last year’s URC final against the Bulls. That game was Covid restricted but its 31 000 tickets were sold out.
Saturday’s was also their largest regular-season encounter since they hosted the Chiefs in front of 35 000 at Newlands in a 34-26 Super Rugby round-robin win at Newlands in 2017. That was the Dillyn Leyds pass game – that irresistible offload to SP Marais while on the floor.
Stormers head coach John Dobson was unperturbed by yet more off-field turmoil hounding his successful side, saying he would have been more worried if his players displayed any signs of being disturbed by it all.
The defending URC champions saw off a late Sharks surge to win 29-23 in the end, a bonus-point victory that put them 18 points clear atop the SA Shield (ahead of the Sharks and Bulls on 41) and 10 points clear of third-placed Glasgow Warriors in second overall.
“I was worried that the team would have an interface or interaction with the [protesters] but I didn’t see anything. But I did see the [Cape Town Pride Festival] and we saw the pictures while we were in our hotel,” said Dobson.
“I would have been really disappointed if [the protest] affected the team and team’s performance. I think we’re one of the areas of Western Province rugby that is doing well.
“I’d be sad if that got disrupted like that. It was probably a reasonable outcome for us.”
Dobson has somehow insulated the team from the boardroom chaos that haunts Cape rugby at the moment.
In midweek, the head coach was at the province’s official signing of a 39-year lease with the City of Cape Town to move WP games there from defunct Newlands Rugby Stadium.
With the Currie Cup kicking off next week (10 and 11 March), it was another step to putting distance between the meddling administrators and marvellous players.
The Stormers fans certainly illuminated the path forward.
“I said to the team before the game that I think this was our biggest crowd since we played the [Chiefs in 2017],” Dobson said.
“And that’s for an ordinary league game, not a knock-out game and without the Springboks. We feel that’s great and a brilliant experience for the players.
“We would have liked to have a game where we had more than 90 phases. I think our total tackle count was about 97 tackles between the two teams.
“We would have liked to play a bit more but I don’t think the surface and the length of time around the scrums helped that.
“But it’s brilliant and it’s shows we are in a new direction and we’re building something special here at Greenpoint.”
– This article was updated to included the views of more people who attended the protest before the match and an IOL report.