Cape Town - A number of sideshows, rather than log points, will fuel Friday night’s United Rugby Championship showdown between the Stormers and Ulster in Belfast (9.35pm SA time kickoff) and may just decide the winner as well.
The most obvious factor will be revenge on the home side’s minds, having gone down 23-20 and 17-15 at the Cape Town Stadium last season, with some controversy thrown in for good measure.
In the first league encounter, Ulster felt that they had a legitimate try disallowed, and then in the semi-final, Warrick Gelant scored after the hooter and Manie Libbok slotted an angled conversion to clinch victory.
Ulster then pulled off a coup recently in signing Stormers captain Steven Kitshoff for next season, and they also have a former Cape stalwart in Duane Vermeulen at No 8.
John Dobson also can’t call on the services of Kitshoff, Frans Malherbe and Damian Willemse due to Springbok resting protocols, while an almost entire team has been left behind in Cape Town to prepare for next Saturday’s clash against the Sharks, including Joseph Dweba, Neethling Fouche, Deon Fourie, Hacjivah Dayimani, Paul de Wet, Manie Libbok and Dan du Plessis.
The Stormers boss has made an interesting choice at flyhalf, with Jean-Luc du Plessis rewarded for his second-half performance in the 30-16 win over Clermont last week, while Sacha Feinberg-Mngomezulu is at inside centre and Clayton Blommetjies at fullback.
“Jean-Luc is definitely a different guy than he was when he left here, but to be able to put in a flyhalf that’s got 30, 40 Super Rugby caps… He is the right guy for these conditions,” Dobson said.
“He is not under contract with us – he’s just a guy who loves Western Province and the Stormers, and wants to play for us. He has trained incredibly well, and we feel tactically, he is the right guy for tomorrow.
“Hopefully he will be able to carve out a role for himself here going forward… I really hope that’s the case. It’s nice to have guys who believe a lot in the team, union, the history and the region.
“There is no question that Jean-Luc is playing for something more than just a jersey, and it’s really good to have him back.”
Dobson is optimistic that the 23 players whom he picked yesterday has a fighting chance at Kingspan Stadium in what will be freezing conditions and a low of four degrees Celcius forecasted for Belfast.
“We have come here to win the game, and the Stormers is the Stormers – no matter who’s wearing the jersey. It’s a really exciting team: if I look at the loose trio, the halfbacks, Sacha Feinberg-Mngomezulu and Ruhan Nel, it’s really exciting. I can’t wait, to be honest,” he said.
“We think we’ve got a good plan. We spent a lot of time on the detail this week. Traditional Stormers rugby isn’t going to be a massive feature tomorrow…
“If we create the odd bit of chaos on the transition or turnover, we certainly will (attack)… We’ve chosen a team to support that plan. Jean-Luc understands what we are trying to do, and so does Stefan Ungerer.
“How we can make people back home proud is how we fight and compete and do in this game rather than maybe the style of rugby, which may be a little bit different. It’s up to Marvin (Orie, who takes over the captaincy) and the guys to see if we can stick to that.”
Teams For Belfast
Ulster: 15 Mike Lowry 14 Rob Lyttle 13 James Hume 12 Stewart Moore 11 Ben Moxham 10 Billy Burns 9 Nathan Doak 8 Duane Vermeulen 7 Nick Timoney 6 Harry Sheridan 5 Sam Carter 4 Alan O’Connor (captain) 3 Jeff Toomaga-Allen 2 Tom Stewart 1 Eric O’Sullivan.
Replacements: 16 John Andrew, 17 Rory Sutherland, 18 Andrew Warwick, 19 Kieran Treadwell, 20 Jordi Murphy, 21 John Cooney, 22 Ian Madigan, 23 Ethan McIlroy.
Stormers: 15 Clayton Blommetjies 14 Suleiman Hartzenberg 13 Ruhan Nel 12 Sacha Feinberg-Mngomezulu 11 Cornel Smit 10 Jean-Luc du Plessis 9 Stefan Ungerer 8 Evan Roos 7 Willie Engelbrecht 6 Junior Pokomela 5 Marvin Orie (captain) 4 Ben-Jason Dixon 3 Brok Harris 2 JJ Kotze 1 Ali Vermaak.
Replacements: 16 Scarra Ntubeni 17 Kwenzo Blose 18 Sazi Sandi 19 Ruben van Heerden 20 Marcel Theunissen 21 Herschel Jantjies 22 Kade Wolhuter 23 Juan de Jongh.