There was no real secret from Munster’s side as to why Manie Libbok misfired against them last time. The DHL Stormers flyhalf is just one of those players who will always have the occasional off-day, and it was mostly his place-kicking that cost his team in the April league game.
So Munster won’t be returning to DHL Stadium for Saturday’s Vodacom United Rugby Championship final feeling they have the magic fix for the Stormers pivot, who has recovered from his blip in his team’s only defeat at home since 2021 by being man of the match in the two home play-off games.
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What they have been doing is spending a lot of time studying the Springbok, who defence coach Denis Leamy, the former Ireland international loose-forward, clearly has a high regard for. He left no doubt in an online press conference that stopping Libbok would be key to stopping the Stormers, though he does also have huge respect for “the power game and skill set across the park” of the hosts in Saturday’s URC decider.
“What a player Libbok is! We have been watching him very closely and he is such a talent,” said Leamy.
“His ability to pass the ball and his kick passing is world class. He has an extraordinary ability to kick the ball with a low trajectory and put it through the air. He really is a very special player. We are going to have to be very on point in our attempts to take time and space away from him.”
CONTROLLING OWN BALL WILL BE KEY
It was clear from what Leamy had to say that one of the main thrusts for Munster’s attempts to curtail not just the threat of Libbok but also the other players such as Damian Willemse who play such a big role in the Stormers’ transitioning game is to be good at controlling the ball themselves and thus not give the Stormers mistakes to feed off.
“We’ve got to get right the fundamentals of how to control the ball. Libbok is a massive player for the Stormers, he is a guy who has strengths we are going to have to try to curtail through our framework,” said the Munster defence coach.
“The Stormers pose big threats in unstructured play, and stopping that is a tough ask, but we have to be very calm in terms of how we hold onto the ball. We don’t want to create fractured play as that gives them an opportunity with their transitional play and then they will be very dangerous. So it is about keeping possession and the accuracy of our kicking will also be very important.
“It’s not just Libbok but players like (Herschelle) Jantjies, Willemse, (Hacjivah) Dayimani, Roos etc, star players with names that just roll off the tongue. So how we implement our game plan and the speed of the ball are things we have discussed and will continue to discuss.”
RG HAS BIG ROLE TO PLAY AGAINST COUNTRYMEN
Munster have welcomed back some key players for this trip, and Leamy was hopeful all of them will be available for selection, with the team set to be announced on Friday, the eve of the game. RG Snyman, the Springbok World Cup winning lock, was a big influence in Munster’s 26-24 win on their last visit to DHL Stadium, and Leamy hopes he will be again.
“RG has been an inspiration to everyone in the building just in terms of how handled his injury, his rehab and his professionalism. He also brings experience we can draw on in having won the Rugby World Cup with South Africa,” said Leamy.
“His performances over the last couple of games since recovering from injury have been excellent. He has a huge body which means he brings strength that is much needed in the mauls and he passes the ball well through the tackle but obviously he also has that ability to do well for us in the lineouts. And that is huge.”
FOURIE MAKES THE STORMERS A BETTER TEAM
The Stormers welcome back their own Bok lineout expert Marvin Orie for this game after he missed the semifinal against Connacht while Leamy also thinks the return of Deon Fourie, who did not face Munster on their last visit to Cape Town, will make the Stormers a better team.
“They are two players that we have admired from afar. We are still learning a lot about the South African teams and still formulating ways to blunt their strengths, but both are exceptional players. Fourie’s ability on the floor is something admired and his ability to get over the ball is of the ilk of the very best players in his position. When he plays for the Stormers they look like a better team.
“Orie brings edge and is a leader, but you get that right throughout the Stormers team, Kitshoff… Malbherbe, Dweba, they’re all so strong, and Roos and Dayimani also bring so much ability. They are a team with speed, handling ability and power and it is all very impressive.”
PRESSURE HAS HARDENED THE VISITORS
It is clear that Leamy thinks his men have their work cut out for them, but what counts in Munster’s favour is that facing pressure and top opponents is becoming like another day at the office for them.
Since beating the Stormers in mid-April, they’ve been constantly on the road, and with the exception of the draw against the Sharks in Durban, they’ve always been on the winning side. If they win on Saturday they would be deserved winners because they would have done it the hard way by winning three away playoff games.
“Away days produce a focus like no others, and we have gotten that right, by and large, on the road,” Leamy said. “We have a mentally tough group now, a physically tough group. It has taken a little while but we generally believe that we have a hardened bunch on the road. We understand what it feels like. It’s a massive challenge to go to Glasgow, Leinster, coming to South Africa, everything that entails.
“But we have gone about our business in a fashion that we feel has been very positive, very workmanlike. There is a tight group here. We have grown from these victories on the road and how we have trained and gelled together.”