Sport trumps politics: Stormers fans vote with their feet, shun ‘protest’ for superb turnout

Cape Town Stadium.  (Photo by Carl Fourie/Gallo Images)

Cape Town Stadium. (Photo by Carl Fourie/Gallo Images)

  • 30,000 Stormers fans voted with their feet on Saturday, dodging the WP clubs’ protest but standing out strong in numbers at Cape Town Stadium.
  • The 30,701 who witnessed the Stormers beat the Sharks 29-23 in the URC trumped the obvious “28” who was among the disillusioned few.
  • Leading up to this, a disgruntled group of clubs linked to the Western Province intended to demonstrate against SA Rugby’s enforced administration.

30,000 fans in the stadium, 28 “demonstrators” outside.

There could hardly be a greater statement, telling Cape Town rugby administrators that people care more about the sport itself than the politics of the sport, than that of 30,701 Stormers fans at Cape Town Stadium on Saturday.

In the end, the “protest” against the management of the parent union of the Stormers, Western Province, parent company SA Rugby, attracted what some witnesses said were around 28 protesters.

All week, two hours before Stormers hosted Sharks in the United Rugby Championship (URC), a disgruntled group of clubs affiliated with the Western Province wanted to make a statement by holding a march outside.

READ | Casual Stormers almost collapse but squeak past Sharks in the URC cliffhanger

But the game was not to be overshadowed as the Stormers recorded the most fans since the 30,300 or so in last year’s URC finals against the Bulls. This game was Covid-restricted but its 31,000 tickets sold out.

Saturday was also their biggest regular-season encounter since they hosted the Chiefs at Newlands in 2017 in front of a crowd of 35,000 in a 34-26 super rugby round robin win at Newlands. That was Dillyn Leyds passing – that irresistible transfer to SP Marais on the floor.

Stormers head coach John Dobson appeared unfazed by even more turmoil off the field chasing his successful side and said he would have been more concerned if his players had shown any signs they were being bothered by it all.

The defending URC champions fended off a late Sharks surge and ended up winning by 29-23, a bonus point win that put them 18 points clear of the SA Shield (ahead of the Sharks and Bulls on 41) and 10 points in third place brought -placed Glasgow Warriors in second overall.

“I was concerned that the team would interface or interact with that [protesters] but I didn’t see anything. But I saw them [Cape Town Pride Festival] and we saw the pictures while we were at our hotel,” Dobson said.

“I would have been really disappointed if [the protest] affects the team and the performance of the team. I think we’re one of the areas of West Province rugby that’s doing well.

“I would be sad if it was disturbed like that. It was probably a reasonable result for us.”

Dobson has somehow isolated the team from the boardroom chaos that is plaguing 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 the defunct Newlands Rugby Stadium.

With the Currie Cup starting next week (March 10th & 11th), this was another step to put some distance between the meddling admins and the great players.

The Stormers fans have certainly lit the way forward.

“I told the team before the game that I think that was our biggest audience since we played that [Chiefs in 2017]’ said Dobson.

“And that’s for an ordinary league game, not a KO game and without the Springboks. We think this is great and a brilliant experience for the players.

“We would have liked to have had a game where we had more than 90 phases. I think our total number of tackles was about 97 tackles between the two teams.

“We would have liked to have played a little more but I don’t think the surface and time around the scrum helped.

“But it’s brilliant and shows that we’re going in a new direction and building something special here at Greenpoint.”

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