Five factors that can decide the Stormers’ URC semi-final against Connacht

FILE - Manie Libbok appears to be back to his best. Photo: Shaun Roy/BackpagePix

FILE - Manie Libbok appears to be back to his best. Photo: Shaun Roy/BackpagePix

Published May 11, 2023


Cape Town — It is semi-final time in the United Rugby Championship at Cape Town Stadium on Saturday as the Stormers and Connacht lock horns for a place in the final on 27 May.

While the Stormers may be the favourites at their Cape Town Stadium fortress, Connacht proved that by beating Ulster away last weekend, they are capable of causing an upset on Saturday (4pm kickoff).

Here are five factors that could decide the outcome…

1. Goal-kicking in the wind

Stormers flyhalf Manie Libbok experienced a bit of the “yips”, to use golfing parlance, when it came to taking shots at goal a few weeks ago, but appears to have sorted out any issue after slotting seven out of seven against the Bulls last weekend.

His Connacht counterpart Jack Carty, though, is also on form with the boot, having landed all five penalties under intense pressure in the 15-10 win over Ulster in Belfast.

And with a strong wind expected on matchday, Carty will be used to that coming from Galway.

Both players also have World Cup ambitions, so will want to make a big statement with the boot in that regard.

2. Breakdown battle

There is a major difference to how the Stormers play when Deon Fourie is on the field. They just seem to grow an extra arm or leg on attack or defence.

Of course, Fourie is renowned for his turnovers at the breakdowns, but he is under an injury cloud at the moment.

But whether he plays or not, the Stormers need to find a way to blast Connacht away on the ground.

The Irish province disrupted Ulster’s attacking flow in Belfast, making almost everything a contest, and earned their penalties for Carty to do his thing.

Perhaps adding more numbers at the clean-outs and being more direct will be the way to go for the Stormers ...

3. Backline defence

Stormers coach John Dobson mentioned this week that Connacht are not the all-out attacking team that they usually have been in recent weeks, but don’t let that fool you: they know how to turn it on when necessary.

The Cape side’s rush defence has worked a treat on most teams this season, but Connacht’s wily coach Andy Friend — a former Brumbies and Sevens mentor — is an attack master, and will have worked out ways in which to get around or behind the Stormers’ backline.

Similarly, though, the Capetonians will look to vary their attack as well, with little grubbers and chips to unlock the front defensive line.

4. Mauling

One of the best ways to stop an opposition’s driving maul is to actually steal their lineout ball before they even get going.

And in lock Niall Murray, Connacht have the best in the business, as he has made 16 this season to top that category in the URC — with lock partner Josh Murphy third with eight (behind Munster’s Peter O’Mahony on nine).

Stormers No 5 Marvin Orie actually sparked a try by stealing a Bulls lineout last weekend, while flank Hacjivah Dayimani is the best Capetonian with five this season.

5. Scrums

You would think that the Stormers will have the upper hand in this set-piece with an all-Springbok front row of captain Steven Kitshoff, Joseph Dweba and Frans Malherbe, but Connacht won’t give up without a fight.

Their front row of Denis Buckley, Dave Heffernan and Finlay Bealham will try every trick in the book to catch the attention of referee Mike Adamson in the scrum — and Bealham was also included in the URC Elite Team yesterday, alongside Kitshoff.

And of course, the slippery Cape Town Stadium pitch will play a massive role as well, and it will be interesting to see whether Adamson opts for resets or tries to stamp his authority by awarding penalties early on.


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