Stormers vs La Rochelle: Time for Springboks to bring the storm

Manie Libbok and the Stormers’ other Springboks will be key against La Rochelle. Picture: Ryan Wilkisky / BackpagePix

Manie Libbok and the Stormers’ other Springboks will be key against La Rochelle. Picture: Ryan Wilkisky / BackpagePix

Published Dec 16, 2023


It’s time for the senior Stormers players to show up and get their rugby season back on track after losses early on in their Champions Cup and United Rugby Championship (URC) campaigns.

They had a week of preparation ahead of Saturday’s European clash with La Rochelle at home, so there should be no excuses as to why they cannot get their first win in the tournament.

The French club are the defending champions, but in front of their faithful in the DHL Stadium, the inaugural URC champions can be a world-beating side.

But for them to walk away as victors, they will need the likes of Rugby World Cup-winning Springboks flyhalf Manie Libbok, utility back Damian Willemse, and flanker Deon Fourie to step up alongside the experienced prop Neethling Fouche, fullback Warrick Gelant, centre Ruhan Nel and eighth man Evan Roos.

The “second-string” Stormers put up a big fight against Leicester Tigers last weekend in England and narrowly lost in the Champions Cup against a side they should not have had a chance against.

That, though, is the sort of fight head coach John Dobson would’ve wanted to see from the weakened side he took to Welford Road. And it should be all the inspiration the likes of Libbok, Fourie, Fouche, and Willemse need to halt La Rochelle.

If the main team can’t beat their opponents at home, the game could give Dobson an indication of which fringe players are ready to take the place of those who are not performing.

Fourie and Fouche will have a whole arsenal of French and other international forwards to contain.

At the World Cup, in the quarter-finals, Fourie had to keep eighth man Gregory Alldritt in check, and for this match, it will be the same. Alldritt is a strong ball carrier, but can also be a menace at the breakdown.

Then there’s Aussie big lock Will Skelton, who will definitely keep the Stormers’ defence on their toes with his bulldozing runs and offloads.

The Cape side will also welcome back two former players – Dillyn Leyds and Raymond Rhule. Both found their mojo at La Rochelle and became backto-back Champions Cup winners with the side.

It will be the task of Willemse, whether he slots in at inside centre or fullback, Nel and Libbok to see that the two of them are kept in check alongside the rest of the champions’ backline.

Should the Stormers dominate up front, especially in the scrums as they did against Leicester, it will provide a strong platform for the likes of Libbok, Willemse, and the mercurial Gelant to attack from.

The predicted Cape Town summer conditions will also allow the home side to play their brand of attacking rugby. But they can’t make the same mistakes they did two weeks ago in Stellenbosch where they struggled to find each other at the back.

The return of the Boks caused a bit of a break in continuity, but the Stormers are better off with them.

Now they have to show that Dobson made the correct call by leaving them behind to focus on this La Rochelle game.

Losing for a second time in the pool could be tough for the home team if they want to make it out.

Their season will also become tougher in the URC as they face the Bulls (December 23) and Sharks (December 30) at home after this important clash.


15 Warrick Gelant, 14 Ben Loader, 13 Ruhan Nel, 12 Damian Willemse, 11 Leolin Zas, 10 Manie Libbok, 9 Herschel Jantjies, 8 Evan Roos, 7 Hacjivah Dayimani, 6 Deon Fourie (captain), 5 Ruben van Heerden, 4 Adre Smith, 3 Neethling Fouche, 2 Joseph Dweba, 1 Ali Vermaak.

Replacements: 16 Andre-Hugo Venter, 17 Sti Sithole, 18 Brok Harris, 19 Connor Evans, 20 Ben-Jason Dixon, 21 Marcel Theunissen, 22 Paul de Wet, 23 Courtnall Skosan.