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Stormers come from behind to beat their South African rivals and claim inaugural URC title

Stormers beat the Bulls 18-13 in Cape Town to win the URC final.

Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

THE STORMERS DEFIED the odds for the umpteenth time this season when they outlasted the Bulls to claim the inaugural United Rugby Championship title.

The result marks a fairytale end to the Cape Town-based side’s season. Few gave the team a chance of qualifying for the playoffs after mismanagement at board level forced the union into administration in late-2021. The tenacity of the group became evident as the season progressed, however, and carried them all the way to glory in the biggest game of the season.

Many backed the Bulls to win this clash at a canter. The Pretoria-based franchise won three Super Rugby titles while part of the southern-hemisphere showpiece. Since Jake White took charge as director of rugby in 2020, the Bulls have won three domestic competitions.

The Stormers, by contrast, came into this final with a reputation for losing big games. Prior to the URC quarter-final win against Glasgow, they had lost eight out of nine major playoff matches.

Over the past three weeks, however, their collective belief and conviction has been their greatest asset. Fuelled by a partisan Cape Town Stadium crowd on Saturday, the Stormers simply refused to quit until that elusive trophy was in their hands.
The crack Bulls lineout delivered in the second minute when it set the platform for a maul and – after several phases of quick ball – a try for centre Harold Vorster.

evan-roos-scores-a-try-despite-harold-vorster Stormers' Evan Roos scores a try. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Clearly the knowledge imparted by Springbok and Ulster No 8 Duane Vermeulen, who had spent a session with the Bulls in Cape Town earlier this week, made a material difference to the visiting side’s set piece and maul.

The visitors’ bossed the collisions and flyhalf Chris Smith looked to pressure the Stormers’ back three with a series of high kicks. Somehow the hosts managed to defuse the bombs and prevent the Bulls from scoring again in the first stanza.

Deon Fourie and Steven Kitshoff were magnificent at the breakdown, winning turnovers for the Stormers at crucial moments. The hosts were outclassed in the opening exchanges, but their proficiency at the ruck ensured that they remained in the fight.

When Manie Libbok fluffed his first attempt at goal, the 31,000 fans permitted inside a heaving Cape Town Stadium must have felt a sense of deja vu. Last week, the Stormers flyhalf missed two goal attempts before holding his nerve to hit the winner.

manie-libbok-kicks Source: Steve Haag/INPHO

Libbok received another kickable opportunity on the stroke of half-time, and made the chance count. The Stormers reduced the deficit to four points.

The hosts started the second half as they had started the first  – with an unforced error. The Bulls were awarded a penalty deep in Stormers’ territory. and Smith nailed the penalty to extend the visitors’ lead to seven points.

But just when it seemed as if the Bulls might pull clear, the Stormers hit back. Evan Roos, one of the standout performers in the URC, produced a strong carry and stretched for the tryline. Libbok’s conversion levelled the scores.

The Stormers began to play with more confidence and accuracy. The kick-chase approach began to yield results, and the hosts proceeded to show some patience when looking for a short pass. For the first time in the contest, the Stormers rather than the Bulls were on the front foot.

Cornal Hendricks was shown a yellow card for a high challenge on opposite number Ruhan Nel in the 56th minute. The offence presented the Stormers with a golden opportunity to seize control of the game.

A successful maul resulted in a try for replacement hooker Andre-Hugo Venter. Incredibly, the Stormers had managed to turn one of their weaknesses into a strength.

Libbok missed the ensuing conversion, and the Bulls powered downfield to win another penalty. Smith made no mistake to slot the kick and set up a dramatic final quarter.
The Stormers had the chance to add to their tally thereafter.  A decision to take a quick tap in the Bulls 22 – influenced, presumably, by Libbok’s erratic form in front of goal – ultimately resulted in a turnover.

But they refused to go away. As was the case in the quarter-final against Glasgow and in the semi-final against Ulster, the Stormers dug deep to find something extra in the dying minutes.

Once again, it was the mercurial figure of Libbok who delivered the telling blow. With six minutes remaining, the Stormers flyhalf slotted a drop goal to edge his side five points clear – and to secure the franchise’s biggest win.

Stormers scorers:

Tries: Evan Roos, Andre-Hugo Venter

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Conversions: Manie Libbok [1 from 2]

Penalties: Manie Libbok [1 from 2]

Drop goals: Manie Libbok

Bulls scorers:

Tries: Harold Vorster

Conversions: Chris Smith [1 from 1]

Penalties: Chris Smith [2 from 2]

STORMERS: Warrick Gelant, Sergeal Petersen, Ruhan Nel, Damian Willemse, Seabelo Senatla, Manie Libbok, Herschel Jantjies; Steven Kitshoff (captain, Brok Harris 74’), JJ Kotze (Andre-Hugo Venter 56’), Frans Malherbe, Salmaan Moerat (Ernst van Rhyn 74’), Marvin Orie, Deon Fourie (Nama Xaba 76’), Hacjivah Dayimani (Junior Pokomela 74’), Evan Roos.

BULLS: Kurt-Lee Arendse, Canan Moodie (David Kriel 64’), Cornal Hendricks, Harold Vorster, Madosh Tambwe, Chris Smith (Chris Smith 75’), Zak Burger (Embrose Papier 63’), Gerhard Steenkamp, Johan Grobbelaar (Bismarck du Plessi 66’), Mornay Smith (Robert Hunt 66’), Walt Steenkamp (Janko Swanepoel 58’), Ruan Nortje, Marcell Coetzee (captain), Arno Botha (WJ Steenkamp 78’), Elrigh Louw.

Referee: Andrew Brace [IRFU].

About the author:

Jon Cardinelli

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