Five ways the Stormers can topple Connacht in next weekend’s URC semi-final

Damian Willemse of Stormers communicates with teammates during their United Rugby Championship quarter-final against the Bulls at Cape Town Stadium

Damian Willemse of Stormers communicates with teammates during their United Rugby Championship quarter-final against the Bulls at Cape Town Stadium. Photo: Ryan Wilkisky/BackpagePix

Published May 7, 2023

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Cape Town — The Stormers made light work of the Bulls in their United Rugby Championship (URC) quarter-final this past Saturday, winning 33-21.

A similar performance, where they start quick and front up in defence, should see them sweep past Connacht this Saturday to make it into a second successive URC final.

IOL Sport's Leighton Koopman takes a look at five areas that the defending champions can use to topple Connacht for a place among the top two.

A quickfire start

Every time the Stormers start a game quicker than their opponents, they have an easier time putting these opponents to bed. It happened against Benetton in the final round-robin match of the season and on Saturday against the Bulls they started like a house on fire, keeping them on the back foot and barely letting them slip from their vice grip. A similar start against Connacht should set them up for more success and with the Irish visitors not too familiar with the Stormers and Cape Town, it should be tough to adjust and adapt to the challenges the home side poses.

Magic with the kicking boot

Flyhalf Manie Libbok and scrumhalf Herschel Jantjies had the Bulls in a mess with their kicks on Saturday. If it wasn't Libbok that turned the Bulls forwards around with his long-range kicks, it was Jantjies who just tapped a few kicks from behind the ruck over the defensive line to make the visiting side turn around and chase after the ball.

It was this type of kick, and later on in the game, Libbok's chips and crossfield kicks, that caught the Bulls off guard. Connacht should expect a similar approach where their forwards will get turned around at every opportunity to wear them down. If the halfbacks succeed with that, it should provide enough front-foot ball for the Stormers to ensure they progress to the final.

Scrum domination

This is one area where the Stormers will feel that they have not really reaped the rewards as of late. Yes, they win penalties here and there but with an all-Springbok front row, they will feel that they need to get more reward from this set-piece. One thing that is currently hampering them, is the state of the surface of the DHL Stadium. It's quite patchy with sandy areas, like the one in the 22m area, across the park. That makes the primary task of the home side's scrummers difficult and they will want to use this weapon against Connacht, who are not generally known for their scrummaging. It will most likely also be loosehead prop and captain Steven Kitshoff's final match at the stadium, so he will be dialled in to deliver a red-hot performance, especially in the scrums.

X-factor the key in the backline

Bulls coach Jake White was right when he bemoaned his team's lack of players with the so-called X-factor to break a game open. In Libbok, Damian Willemse, wingers Angelo Davids and Leolin Zas, and centres Ruhan Nel and Dan du Plessis, the Stormers possess an arsenal of guys who can ignite the backline to cause havoc on their opponent's defensive line.

Libbok can easily lay back for Willemse to take over, Nel and Du Plessis complement each other brilliantly and don't need to say a lot to each other when they are playing together and, of course, there's the finishing ability of Zas and Davids. With play-offs, there's always that risk that players will crawl back into their shells but the Stormers have shown that they will play their high-risk, high-reward rugby to defend their title.

Line-out options aplenty

It's amazing to think that earlier in the season the Stormers had a lock crisis and by the end of the season they've found a settled lock combination in Marvin Orie and Ruben van Heerden that looks world-class every time they play together. They are brilliant line-out callers and also two brilliant enforcers. And on top of that, they are not shy to stick their heads into contact when their team is under pressure. They are also the leaders when it comes to stopping the maul.

Behind them, there are youngsters like Ben-Jason Dixon, Gary Porter, and Connor Evans who have all taken their opportunities when called upon by the Stormers. Orie and Van Heerden had the Bulls under constant pressure on Saturday, even in the line-outs, and they are instrumental in the Stormers' cause to reach the final. Another strong effort in the line-outs, and mauls, against Connacht should put the Stormers well on their way to a second final in two years.

@Leighton_K

IOL Sport