Leo Cullen and John Dobson meet in URC

Leo Cullen and John Dobson in conversation. Photo: Gallo Images.

Dobson vs Cullen: Dawn of a rugby’s newest great rivalry

Two of the finest minds in the URC, Leo Cullen and John Dobson, will face off in what is bound to be the start of a new rivalry on Friday.

Leo Cullen and John Dobson meet in URC

Leo Cullen and John Dobson in conversation. Photo: Gallo Images.

Two of the finest minds in the URC, Leo Cullen and John Dobson, will face off in what is bound to be the start of a new rivalry when Leinster host the Stormers on Friday.


The top-of-the-table clash sees unbeaten Leinster welcome the defending champion Stormers for the first-ever clash between the two teams at the RDS Arena in Dublin.

When these two teams faced each other for the first time in round 17 last season, it was the champions elect who claimed a hard-fought 20-13 victory against a Leinster side missing a bulk of Ireland internationals.

Friday evening’s clash will be another great battle of the minds as Cullen bids to extend Leinster’s winning run, while Dobson looks to guide the Stormers to a rare win in the north.

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Both coaches — who have committed long-term to their respective clubs — have a special attachment to their respective teams. 

Cape Town-raised Dobson is a man of his province. The son of the late Paul Dobson, a highly-respected former referee, teacher and author, John had a relatively modest playing career as a hooker for Western Province, but was a stalwart for his club side the University of Cape Town.

Dobson came through the coaching ranks in the Western Cape, starting out at the UCT, before progressing up as Western Province’s U21, Vodacom Cup and then Currie Cup head coach, tasting success at every level.

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Dobson’s first major trophy as a senior head coach came in 2017, when he inspired an unfancied Western Province side to victory in the Currie Cup final against the Sharks in Durban.

After succeeding former Springbok centre Robbie Fleck as Stormers head coach in 2020, Dobson coached the Cape side to a first-ever cross-hemisphere tournament title in the inaugural United Rugby Championship in 2022.

Dobson’s teams have always been renowned for their eye-catching brand of rugby, which is a reflection of the way the game has been played in the Western Cape for generations.

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Like Dobson, Leo Cullen was raised near Dublin and went on to spend most of a highly successful playing career with Leinster. The former lock played for his hometown club 219 times over two stints punctuated by a move to the Leicester Tigers, captaining Leinster to three Champions Cup titles in his second stint between 2007 and 2014, becoming the first player to do so.

Soon after hanging up his boots in 2014, Cullen took up a role as Leinster forwards coach and then was appointed as head coach in 2015. More success followed as he became the first person to win the top European Rugby trophy as a player and a coach in 2018 and also coached Leinster to four successive URC wins (then called the Pro 14) in 2018, 2019, 2020 and 2021.

Cullen and Dobson have instilled a culture of success at their respective teams and are able to get the best out of players and their coaching colleagues.

With Cullen signing a new two-year contract at Leinster and Dobson committing to the Stormers until 2027, Friday’s clash marks the next chapter in a burgeoning rivalry that will draw battle lines between north and south.

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Stormers boss full of praise for budding Leinster rival

“For me the benchmark in the south has always been the Crusaders and I see Leinster as the Crusaders of the north. They set the standard and they are what we as the DHL Stormers want to be in terms of success and continuity,” said Dobson.

“I have huge admiration for what Leo has achieved as a player and a coach and massive respect for Leinster as one of the leading lights in world club rugby. It is going to be a massive challenge for us on Friday but it will give our players an indication of where they are in terms of defending the title. 

“To go to Dublin and win is the biggest away achievement and that is why I rated Jake’s (White) Vodacom Bulls semi-final win against Leinster as the match of the league. We hope to emulate that wonderful achievement, and if not on Friday, then in the final.”

John Dobson and Leo Cullen set to clash in URC
Leo Cullen and John Dobson. Photo: Supplied.