Success sets Stormers up for home rematch with the champions

rugby22 January 2024 03:50| © SuperSport
By:Gavin Rich
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It was a great weekend for the two South African Investec Champions Cup teams, with both the Vodacom Bulls and the DHL Stormers hitting target by scoring bonus-point wins to secure home-ground advantage when the playoff phase starts with the round of 16 in April.

However, of the two local sides that celebrated after a dramatic weekend of the pool stages, which lived up to expectations at both the Champions Cup and the secondary EPCR Challenge Cup level, it will be the Stormers who might be wondering what they have let themselves in for.

Before Bayonne beat Exeter Chiefs in the last Champions Cup fourth-round game played on Sunday night, it looked like the Stormers, who finished second in Pool 4 after breaking their overseas drought against Stade Francais in Paris, would be hosting Bath at the DHL Stadium in the first week of April.

However, after struggling in their earlier European games, Bayonne turned it on against the Chiefs, thus sending the two English clubs, Bath and the Chiefs, into each other’s path in the round of 16. And the way the seedings work, with the teams ranked from No1 to No16 according to log points garnered even though the pools aren’t necessarily equal, it means that La Rochelle, who finished third in Pool 4 behind the Stormers, will come to Cape Town for the first playoff game.

The Stormers scored an epic last-gasp win over the two-time reigning champions at the DHL Stadium in their second Champions Cup game, but the European champions have picked up pretty awesome form in the last two weeks - thumping Leicester Tigers at home last week while they were considerably better than their 13-point winning margin away against Sale Sharks on Sunday.


That the Stormers ended up being the lowest ranked of the teams that finished second in their pool was down to them missing out on a losing bonus point against Leicester at the start of the competition when they sent an understrength team to Welford Road. The Bulls by contrast did get a bonus point in their away loss to Lyon, so they get to play Lyon again in the round of 16, but this time, of course, they will have home-ground advantage.

The Bulls pushed Lyon all the way with an understrength team in December so will start as red-hot favourites to beat them at Loftus, as they did in a pool game last year. The Stormers are going to have to play really well for lightning to strike in the same place twice by beating La Rochelle again, but they do have the carrot of what a massive statement it would be if they did manage it.

Certainly, the form La Rochelle have been in should draw a full house to the DHL Stadium for the game, while the Bulls will also be hoping for slightly more than turned out to watch them beat one of the form teams in the competition, Bordeaux Begles, in their decisive final pool match.


The Bulls’ win was the South African performance of the weekend even though Jake White's team were a bit sloppy in allowing the visitors back into a game they were winning comfortably. Then again, Bordeaux are a quality team, and just getting the win was an achievement for the Bulls, who then had to wait until the late-night game between Saracens and Lyon before being sure they had finished second in Pool 1.

At halftime of the game at the Saracens home ground, it looked like the Bulls were going to be denied as Saracens led 17-5. However, Owen Farrell’s team were not done and came tearing out of the blocks in the second half to win comfortably. What is in the Bulls’ favour when they host Lyon in April is the French team’s poor away record - they haven’t won an away game in more than a year.


It was something of a bizarre weekend when it came to South African results across both the Champions Cup and the Challenge Cup. The Stormers looked like they were going to see their overseas drought continue when they were trailing by 10 points heading towards the final quarter against Stade Francais in Paris.

But if ever a scrum won a team a match this was it, with the Stormers’ dominance at a sequence of set scrums between the 66th and the 70th minute eventually seeing two yellow cards shown to Stade Francais front-rankers, which in turn meant uncontested scrums became obligatory. That meant an extra Stade Francais player had to go off, so the hosts were down to 12 men when Manie Libbok celebrated his 50th cap for the Stormers by scoring the winning try.

The Stormers had changed the momentum of the game when the bench players came on and probably deserved their victory after a very iffy first 55 minutes in the game, but it was nonetheless a farcical last 10 minutes and was not a good look for the sport.


There were 12 tries at Loftus in the earlier game and that match combined with the Emirates Lions’ rather stunning late collapse against the Welsh team, the Ospreys, in Johannesburg on Sunday in their final Challenge Cup pool game seemed to give the lie to the theory that it is the hosts who are favoured at altitude.

It looked distinctly like it was the Bulls, and not Bordeaux, who were out on their feet when the end came at Loftus, and the Ospreys turned around an 11-point deficit to win with a flurry of scoring late in the game in Johannesburg. A case of the hosts, in their quest for tempo, almost running themselves off their own feet? Perhaps.


It rained cards in the Toyota Cheetahs’ clash with Oyonnax in France and they were down to 13 men on a few occasions and had Munier Hartzenberg red-carded in the first half but still led for most of the clash before Oyonnax won the game off the last move which stretched the match several minutes beyond the 80.

The Cheetahs picked up two log points even in defeat and that was enough to get them through to the round of 16, where they face a really tough away fixture to Clermont-Auvergne. The Lions are also through despite their defeat and the Hollywoodbets Sharks were sure of their Challenge Cup advance long before they beat the Dragons on Sunday night so overall it was a successful weekend for the South African sides.

The Sharks have arguably the easiest game of the five South African teams in the round of 16 matches across the two competitions, as they face Zebre Parma. They did lose to Zebre on their URC tour in November but shouldn’t have any problems against them with their full-strength team at home.

- 5/6/7 April - home team first

Toulouse v Racing 92

Leinster v Leicester Tigers

Northampton Saints v Munster
Bordeaux Begles v Saracens

Harlequins v Glasgow Warriors

Vodacom Bulls v Lyon
DHL Stormers v La Rochelle

Exeter Chiefs v Bath

- 5/6/7 April - home team first

Hollywoodbets Sharks v Zebre Parma

Gloucester v Castres

Benetton v Emirates Lions

ASM Clermont Auvergne v Toyota Cheetahs

Montpellier v Ulster

Pau v Connacht

Ospreys v Sale Sharks

Edinburgh v Bayonne


Glasgow Warriors 29-5 Toulon
Connacht 27-10 Bristol Bears
Vodacom Bulls 46-40 Bordeaux Begles
Harlequins 47-19 Ulster
Racing 92 48-26 Cardiff
Leicester Tigers 10-27 Leinster
Munster 23-26 Northampton Saints
Stade Francais 20-24 DHL Stormers
Saracens 39-24 Lyon
Sale Sharks 24-37 La Rochelle
Toulouse 31-19 Bath
Bayonne 40-17 Exeter Chiefs


Scarlets 19-31 Edinburgh
Gloucester 35-5 Castres
Pau 28-27 Zebre
Black Lion 3-36 Clermont Auvergne
Oyonnax 28-27 Toyota Cheetahs
Benetton 27-19 Montpellier
Emirates Lions 28-38 Ospreys
Pergpignan 23-32 Newcastle
Dragons 9-29 Hollywoodbets Sharks