Currie Cup Final Preview: John Dobson not your average coach

John Dobson quotes Shakespeare as well as the playbook. Chris Ricco/BackpagePix

During Western Province's second-last training session ahead of Saturday's Currie Cup final against the Sharks, they trained with Enrique Iglesias' 'Hero' playing in the background.

At first glance, it looked as if the Newlands staff were testing the sound system ahead of the match, and getting the levels right for the 4p.m. kick-off. But why would they play a love song at a rugby match?

The song wasn't for the crowd, however. It was for the Province players sweating it out on the field in the Cape Town heat. It was classic John Dobson, the Western Province coach whose unusual team-building methods have helped the defending Currie Cup champions go through this year's competition unbeaten.

Dobson is certainly not your average rugby coach, as he knows as much about the breakdown as he does about William Shakespeare, whom he quotes often to motivate his players or to make a point.

Dobson holds a law degree, a master's degree in Business Administration and a master's in Creative Writing, which he attained from the University of Cape Town (UCT). He has also published two novels: Year of the Gherkin in 2012, and Year of the Turnip in 2016.

When Dobson was handed the Western Province Currie Cup job in 2015, after successful stints with UCT in the Varsity Cup and with WP Under-21, he decorated the team room with inspirational quotes, while also giving the players a "history lesson" to go with his team talks.

He is basically mixing the brutality of rugby with Shakespeare. And it's working...

"One of the reasons I'm doing it is to broaden the minds of the players," Dobson told KweséESPN.

"The other reason is to stimulate them.

"I give a history lesson before every game, about a World War or something significant that happened in the past. The players enjoy it, and they will also get a message pertaining to what we want to achieve on the field.

"Before the Bulls match we used a quote from Henry V: 'In peace there's nothing so becomes a man as modest stillness and humility; But when the blast of war blows in our ears, Then imitate the action of the tiger: Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood'.

"Now, on their banter group, the guys are sending Shakepeare quotes around!"

For Dobson, team culture is important -- something he says that goes hand in hand with the technical details of the game and hard work on the training pitch.

It's been clear watching this Western Province team that they are a tight unit, on and off the field. It's a diverse group of players -- most aren't household names -- who have come together and dominated the competition.

WP captain Chris van Zyl confirmed the spirit in the team is one of the reasons that they have done so well this year, winning all their league matches by 22 points or more before digging deep to beat the Blue Bulls in extra time in the semifinals.

"There is this love and care for each other off the field, and that is what Dobbo has been focusing on, for each member of the team to be accountable on and off the field," Van Zyl said at a press conference.

"Up to now, it's something we have been able to get right. If you really care about someone, off the field, on the field you will get off the ground for that individual and make more effort."

Dobson agreed.

"The one thing that concerns me the most is the guys' enjoyment of the game," he said.

"I worked very hard at it, how we want to behave on and off the field.

"We had a bit of disruption at the start of the Currie Cup when a report was in the media saying many of the guys' contracts aren't going to be renewed or that they are available for transfer. That was literally a couple of weeks before Currie Cup started.

"We then went to France for a pre-season friendly, and I think that trip worked out nicely; it brought the team together."

But Dobson also has this unusual habit of getting the best out of players by getting in their head. Ahead of their final league fixture against the Bulls, he told tighthead prop Wilco Louw that the Pretoria team said they were going to gun for him.

Louw ended up scrumming the Bulls into the ground.

"I don't know how accurate that rumour was," Dobson joked.

"To be honest, it's a little bit of trickery. You must just know which buttons to push.

"It's a team game, but the players are all individuals and you have to try and manage it a bit. A kid like 'Trokkie' [Juarno Augustus] needs to be challenged, while the other guys need to be reaffirmed."

Whether it's playing tricks or quoting Henry V, Dobson is not your average rugby coach. He has proven to be bloody good.