The DHL Stormers ended Leinster’s winning run in the Vodacom United Rugby Championship by fighting out a 22-all stalemate in a top of the table clash played in inclement conditions at the RDS Arena in Dublin on Friday night.
There was a strong swirling wind for the entire game and rain for much of it, so it was credit to both teams that the clash realised the type of quality as well as levels of excitement you’d expect when the top two teams on the log go head to head.
Given that these were definitely northern conditions, the Stormers can feel well pleased with the way they handled the game, although it has also to be said that there were lessons they still need to absorb.
The hosts were missing their Six Nations players who were taking a deserved rest, but the log leaders would not have won 15 matches in a row were it not for their almost freaky depth.
So the fact they were the first to dent the Leinster record, and on their home field at that, is something the Stormers can be proud of.
Wow... What a game of #Rugby.
The sides leave with a share of the points after an exhilarating game at the RDS arena! ?? @Vodacom #URC | #LEIvSTO pic.twitter.com/b7RrSUvdTG— Vodacom United Rugby Championship (URC) (@URCOfficial_RSA) March 24, 2023
The two points for the draw could also be crucial in the way they heap extra pressure on Ulster, who are trying to catch the Stormers and take their place in the top two but now have to rely on the Cape team dropping points in their remaining matches against Munster and Benetton for that to happen.
At the same time as the Stormers can be pleased, it also has to be said that Leinster showed their championship qualities, for they had to fight back from a 17-0 deficit just short of halftime to earn the draw.
And before Clayton Blommetjies ran onto a little dink kick from Manie Libbok to dot down the Stormers’ third and equalising try with 10 minutes to go, 22 unanswered points in that half hour period looked like it would be enough for Leinster to make it 16 wins in a row.
The vision & then THAT finish, take a bow Stormers! ?? @Vodacom #URC | #LEIvSTO pic.twitter.com/RsLKlBVflo— Vodacom United Rugby Championship (URC) (@URCOfficial_RSA) March 24, 2023
A TRIFLE LUCKY
In the end it was Leinster hanging on right at the end, with the Stormers proving they can learn on the hoof by overturning their dubious tactic of trying to kick into the strong wind in the first part of the second half and relying more on their scrumming and carrying at the business end of the game.
What the Stormers learned about Leinster, even with the Ireland internationals missing, is that their reputation for being relentless when they have the ball in their possession and are applying pressure is well earned.
Rule No 1 against them should surely be that you prioritise not making mistakes that will gift them the ball.
In that sense, the Stormers should in fact be kicking themselves for the way they gifted Leinster their first try, which came at the crucial moment of the stroke of halftime.
The try was the product of the kind of continuous build-up, with ball retention and quick recycling being the key, that Leinster are renowned for, but they shouldn’t have had the ball, as it was a lineout overthrow two minutes before halftime and on the Stormers line that gifted the hosts the field position they capitalised on.
There were a few moments like that from the Stormers, particularly in the poor third quarter, when they were outplayed tactically, with the third try, the one that brought the hosts to within two points of the Stormers, being the result of a mistake at the back from Clayton Blommetjies.
The fourth try that Leinster scored to take the lead was a trifle lucky in the sense that Suleiman Hartzenberg probably had no clue what he had done to get a yellow card off the previous play, and neither did the commentators. Generally though Scottish referee Sam Grove White was very good with the whistle.
Hartzenberg scored the second Stormers try after a loose ball had been picked up deep in his own half by Manie Libbok, who looked like he might go all the way but transferred to Hartzenberg when it looked like he might be caught. That put the Stormers into a 17-0 lead after 34 minutes and they were in command.
However, there was always the knowledge that they were playing with the strong wind behind them, and it was necessary to get as big a halftime buffer as possible.
The Stormers were very quickly out of the blocks, and it could be argued that they could have got more out of the first quarter than the 10 point lead they built up through a Libbok penalty and then a Libbok try that came from a weaving run from the flyhalf against a defence wrong footed by a dominant Stormers scrum near the posts.
Who else!? ??
Manie Libbok throws the dummy and then finishes in sublime style! ?? @Vodacom #URC | #LEIvSTO pic.twitter.com/an6muaDzk0— Vodacom United Rugby Championship (URC) (@URCOfficial_RSA) March 24, 2023
DHL Stormers 22 - Tries: Manie Libbok, Suleiman Hartzenberg, Clayton Blometjies ; Conversions: Manie Libbok 2; Penalty: Manie Libbok.
Leinster 22 - Tries: Michael Milne, Scott Penny, Rob Russell and Max Deegan; Conversion: Harry Byrne.