Fortunately for Stormers, Gelant is a good derby man

rugby20 December 2023 08:43| © SuperSport
By:Gavin Rich
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Warrick Gelant © Gallo Images

There’s plenty of irony in the fact that the Vodacom Bulls are arriving in Cape Town for Saturday’s big north/south derby with 34-year-old Willie le Roux being built up as one of the main threats to the DHL Stormers’ chances of continuing their winning run against their arch foe.

Le Roux is from the Western Cape and owns property in the region and it is no secret that the Stormers had first option on him when he made it known during the course of last season that he wanted to finish his career playing in South Africa. It was understood national director of rugby Rassie Erasmus offered Le Roux to the Stormers, and was prepared to make it easier for them by raising the Poni (Player of national interest) money that would make him more affordable.

However, Stormers coach John Dobson is understandably sensitive about doing anything that might threaten the strong team culture that has been built at the franchise, and with Le Roux not really having stood out at his previous gigs in South Africa - the Cheetahs and Sharks - he opted instead to re-employ one of the heroes of his team’s title winning season, Warrick Gelant.

The fullback would have strongly challenged for the right to be seen as the Stormers’ man of the season for his exploits in the season they won the inaugural Vodacom United Rugby Championship, with his allround game, and in particular his keen understanding with flyhalf Manie Libbok and the ability of those two players to play off each other, often the point of difference.


Where the irony comes in is that the two players who were effectively in the frame to be the Stormers fullbacks this season have made contributions to their respective franchises that you’d imagine might have Dobson wondering if he made the right decision. While it is generally acknowledged that it is the arrival of Le Roux and his passing game that has created a new attacking dynamic for the Bulls, Gelant has too often been guilty of being too loose and that has contributed to the Stormers’ struggle to get up the URC log in the early stages of the season.

Indeed, with Dan du Plessis set to return to availability next week for the match against the Hollywoodbets Sharks, it’s not an exaggeration that Gelant might be playing for his starting place against the Bulls. Damian Willemse is currently wearing the Stormers No 12 but he plays fullback for the Springboks.

It is likely though that Gelant will line up against the Bulls, and the visiting coach Jake White will know better than anyone that he remains a very dangerous player. He is a good derby player, probably because those games get his competitive juices flowing, and the winning of the game then becomes more important to him than his Harlem Globetrotter style show off tendencies. He hurt the Bulls in that first season of Super Rugby.


The Stormers will be hoping that the appearance of an acknowledged enemy in opposition, and let’s not forget that Gelant also spent several seasons playing for the Bulls, might get him to wind his head in a bit and add some much needed pragmatism to his approach. If he does that, he will be an important player for the Stormers, for as Dobson pointed out after the win over La Rochelle, Gelant’s positional play is outstanding and there are few as good as he is at covering the back field.

It is what he does when he gets the ball into his hands that has been the problem this season, and even then, as assistant coach Dawie Snyman has pointed out, it is not just because of Gelant that the Stormers have misfired when presented with the transition and counter-attack opportunities that in the past they have executed in such lethal fashion.

“It’s not just about Warrick. It’s about the team as well. We know what Warrick can do, he does create a lot of opportunities for those around him,” said the Stormers attack coach.

“It’s our responsibility to give him the right information so that he can make the right decisions, and when he makes his decisions, that we run well off him. We back him, we have full confidence in him and we know what he can do. Warrick just needs a bit of time in the saddle.

“His strong point is putting players around him into space and creating opportunities. It hasn’t always come off this season, but there are things he is working on,” added Snyman.

Of course, much of the Gelant game, and indeed the Stormers outside back as a unit, is about converting 50/50 opportunities. By definition, that means high risk and high reward.

“The try that Dillyn Leyds made for La Rochelle at the weekend could easily have been a try on the other side of the field,” said Snyman.

“Last year we got that right. Those are the areas we need to control better. But on the positive side, we produced what was by our reckoning a 60 per cent performance against La Rochelle, and we beat the kings of Europe.

“Our trajectory is good. The Boks only came back to us two games ago, and Manie and Damian are getting used to playing together again in the flyhalf/midfield axis, and Deon (Fourie) is only just back with us as well. So we are still working on getting our rhythm still. The fact we are playing at home this weekend is good for us and we also drew confidence from beating the Champions Cup champions last weekend.”


Snyman is under no illusions about the mighty task his team faces on Saturday, and also didn’t duck the question about the contribution being made by double World Cup winner Le Roux.

“We all know what Willie can do. He makes those around him look so good because he understands the game so well. He knows how to put the ball into space, his left foot gives them balance, so for the young men at the Bulls, he must be very valuable. He’s a very dangerous player and a big factor in this game.”