No log points but Stormers make massive statement

rugby10 December 2023 17:50
By:Gavin Rich

A try by wing Josh Bassett off the last move of the game denied the DHL Stormers a bonus point, which was the least they deserved, but Leicester Tigers’ 35-26 Investec Champions Cup win at Welford Road on Sunday did not obscure the massive statement made by the Cape team.

Even Stormers coach John Dobson did not hold out much hope of his men returning from England with a win.

He said at the pre-match press conference on Friday after naming a second string team for the game that he would be really happy if his team just fought and came away with a bonus point.

They would have got that point were it not for an error less than two minutes from the end, when a Clayton Blommetjies kick went out over the dead ball line.

The hosts were leading just 30-26 at the time and a minute earlier the Stormers had scrummed a penalty metres from the Leicester line but the Tigers managed to force a penalty.

That is how close the supposedly second string Stormers came to actually winning the game against their international laden opponents.

Should they have gone for the corner flag? Probably, but they were no doubt mindful of the fact that the lineout was the one area on an otherwise excellent performance where they malfunctioned. There were four lineouts that went against the throw.


If that though gives the impression that the Stormers pack was found wanting, think again - they were anything back, and the two locks, Hendre Stassen and Conor Evans, both of whom were playing their first Champions Cup games and making their first Stormers starts of the season, were both outstanding.

Stassen, recruited during the off-season, looks a beast, both offensively and defensively, but he wasn’t any better on the night than Evans, who is a young player who qualifies to play age-group rugby but who joined his second-row mate in confounding any theories that depth might be a Stormers problem in that area given the injuries to Gary Porter and Salmaan Moerat.

And that’s why even in defeat this performance was a statement from the Stormers - they were playing away at one of shrines of the club game globally with an understrength team against a Leicester team that included two World Cup-winning Springboks in addition to a phalanx of England players.

Handre Pollard, the Bok flyhalf, ended up walking away with the official man of the match award as he scored 20 points of his own, but his teammate Jasper Wiese was made to look decidedly ordinary during the first half as the Stormers swarmed all over him.


People may have raised their eyebrows when Dobson said that Keke Morabe, who was playing his first Champions Cup game, would one day challenge Evan Roos for his place at No 8, but no-one who saw him play in this game will disagree that it is a possibility.

Nama Xaba is also a potential future Bok openside flanker if he can remain fit.

The real stand out though on a night where all the Stormers, including Englishman Ben Loader who was a constant threat to the opposition, were deserving of praise, was young flyhalf Jurie Matthee.

Last year’s Maties flyhalf in the Varsity Cup delivered a cool and composed performance in every aspect of pivot play and had the Stormers won, it could quite easily have been Matthee rather than Pollard who won the man of the match.

On a greasy, slippery night, Matthee succeeded with all his kicks, plus a snap drop-goal that drew the teams level at 23-all with 20 minutes to go.

He was safe too under the high ball, while in the first half he, together with wing Courtnall Skosan, succeeded in making a complete mess of England fullback Freddy Steward’s lofty reputation in the aerial battle.

After the two flyhalves kicked a penalty each near the start, it was Leicester who were first to cross the line through their centre Salomona Kata, who went over after a scrum was set up following Matthee having to carry the ball back under pressure following a charge down when the Stormers were a bit lax with a free kick.

Yes, the Stormers did make mistakes, and had they not they might well have won, but it would be churlish to be overly critical of such a young team for those errors, and it was Leicester to were on the back foot for most of the rest of the first half after Vata’s first quarter score.

After the 20th minute the Stormers had made 17 carries against 16 but that increased substantially as they overtook Leicester on the scoreboard, with the first try being scored by Morabe as he broke through off an attacking scrum and then on the stroke of halftime scrumhalf Paul de Wet kicked through after the ball squirted out of the Leicester scrum and Skosan was up to take a pop pass on the line to make it 17-10 to the Stormers at the break.


The Leicester coaches must have read the riot act to the players after halftime for they came out with massive intent in the second half, and within seven minutes they had retaken the lead through a Pollard penalty and then another Kata try which started off a Stormers lineout mistake.

However, that was when Matthee got his drop-goal and the Stormers just didn’t go away, with the home team being helped in no small measure by one of those ridiculous high-tackle yellow cards in the 64th minute that has become such a blight on the modern game.

It was Lee-Marvin Mazibuko who was sent from the field but the replacement prop could hardly be blamed for an incident that was really just the product of rugby being a contact sport, with Mazibuko being joined by Junior Pokomela in making a double tackle.

Speaking of Pokomela, the Stormers went really deep into their depth in this match and the players who came off the bench underlined the statement that was agreed to by Pollard afterwards - the Stormers, and South African rugby in general, have a lot of depth.


Leicester Tigers 35 - Tries: Solomone Kata 2, Handre Pollard and Josh Bassett; Conversions: Handre Pollard 3; Penalties: Handre Pollard 3.

DHL Stormers 26 - Tries: Keke Morabe and Courtnall Skosan; Conversions: Jurie Matthee 3; Penalties: Jurie Matthee 2; Drop-goal: Jurie Matthee