Ben hoping to load another Stormers try against La Rochelle

Ben Loader dived over for a try against La Rochelle in December, and wants to ‘replicate’ that feat in Saturday’s Champions Cup clash. Picture: BackpagePix

Ben Loader dived over for a try against La Rochelle in December, and wants to ‘replicate’ that feat in Saturday’s Champions Cup clash. Picture: BackpagePix

Published Apr 4, 2024


Despite a difficult encounter against Ulster last week, Ben Loader feels that the Stormers are a team who can “who can create from anywhere”.

The Capetonians had to do the hard yards to eke out a 13-7 victory over the Belfast side to maintain their challenge for a home play-off in the United Rugby Championship.

But this weekend, they have much bigger fish to fry in the shape of La Rochelle – the two-time defending champions – in Saturday’s Champions Cup last-16 clash at the Cape Town Stadium (4pm kick-off).

The Stormers battled to counter Ulster’s all-encompassing attacking game, with Steven Kitshoff’s team dishing out a lesson in ball retention and multi-phase play.

Only desperate defence kept the hosts in the game as they trailed by just 7-0 at half-time, and a late Evan Roos try secured the win.

But they will face a much tougher examination from the powerful La Rochelle squad, which boast dynamic characters such as Gregory Alldritt, Levani Botia, Will Skelton, Uini Atonio and Jonathan Danty.

Englishman Loader, though, has good memories of the Stormers’ pool game against La Rochelle in December, as he scored a try in the 21-20 win that was clinched by a last-gasp Manie Libbok touchline conversion of André-Hugo Venter’s five-pointer.

“Damian (Willemse) found me with a great kick, and I just had to make the run to the line. It was so amazing to score in front of the fans for the first time at DHL Stadium,” Loader, who did well to grab the ball in the air, told the Stormers website this week.

“Unfortunately, I injured my shoulder in the act of scoring and it was a bittersweet moment for me, but I’m hoping to replicate some of that success this coming weekend.

“(Last) Saturday was a great win (over Ulster) – obviously not the prettiest, but at this stage of the season, you’ve got to take them wherever they come.

“This squad of players has this belief that we’re going to create opportunities, and they might come in the first minute or in the 80th minute – but we know we’re a team who can create from anywhere.

“It’s something the coaches have instilled in us. But we as players have that confidence and back each other (in the belief) that if we don’t stop fighting, then we’ll definitely get that chance to find a way to win.

“To have the supporters cheering us on for what will be a massive game – we’ll need all the support we can get.”

The 25-year-old former London Irish wing, who has also filled in at outside centre this season, has been impressive whenever he has been fielded by coach John Dobson as a starter or off the bench.

He was a substitute against Ulster last weekend, but will hope to feature for the full 80 minutes against La Rochelle, which may depend on whether Suleiman Hartzenberg is moved into the No 13 jersey.

“The back three is a really tight unit, and I enjoy playing with everyone,” said Loader, who is from Reading, near London. “We’ve seen a lot of combinations this season, sometimes due to injury, but we’ve now got most of the guys ready.

“Whoever plays is able to do the business, like Suleiman scoring a hat-trick two weeks ago against Edinburgh, (Leolin) Zas scoring twice … the guys are really on form.

“The Ulster game was like a Test match, but this week is going to be even tougher. Stade Rochelais are double champions, and will come with all the firepower that they’ve got.

“We know they’ll be gunning for us, but we came out on top in the pool stages, and we’ll have our plans to cancel them out. And we’re at home at DHL Stadium, and that definitely counts for something.”

Meanwhile, there is hope that Deon Fourie could return from his rib injury to feature on Saturday.

The 37-year-old Springbok loose forward was seen at training this week in a photo posted on the Stormers’ social media accounts.

When asked this week if Fourie would play on Saturday, Stormers defence coach Norman Laker only offered: “We don’t know that yet – I was just joking (when mentioning Fourie as someone who could stop La Rochelle fetcher Levani Botia)!”