United Rugby Championship: Five takeaways from Leinster’s draw with the Stormers including Manie Libbok’s brilliance
Following a hard-fought 22-22 draw between Leinster and the Stormers in their top-of-the-table United Rugby Championship (URC) clash, here’s our five takeaways from the encounter at the RDS Arena.
Fine start crucial for the Stormers
A big talking point in the build-up to the game was the Stormers’ poor performance on their previous visit to Ireland this season. That was a Round 13 clash against Ulster, who raced into a 21-0 half-time lead before continuing their dominance after the interval en route to a 35-5 victory.
However, it was a different matter all together against Leinster as the men from the Cape set their stall out quite early at the RDS Arena and dominated most facets of play during the opening half.
The Stormers held their composure during the opening period as forwards and backs combined brilliantly with each other. Despite difficult conditions, with a swirling wind blowing throughout the match and sheets of rain pouring into the RDS Arena, the defending champions showed great intent and physicality during the opening period and held a deserved 17-5 lead at the interval.
Patience the key for Leinster
Although the URC‘s defending champions dominated for long periods during that first half, Leinster did not panic as they soaked up the early pressure from their opponents and came back strongly during the latter part of the opening 40 minutes.
The Leinstermen’s patience was rewarded in the closing stages of the first half when Michael Milne barged over from close quarters for their opening try and despite trailing at the interval, that five-pointer lifted the home side’s spirits and they came out firing after half-time.
It was all Leinster during the first quarter of the second half as they had the wind at their backs and had the Stormers pinned in their own half with accurate kicking out of hand. After finishing the first half on a high courtesy of Milne’s try, Leinster had their tails up at the start of the second half, when Scott Penny and Rob Russell scored tries in quick succession and they eventually took the lead midway through the half when Max Deegan also dotted down.
Manie Libbok’s brilliance saves the Stormers
This is not the first time that we sing the Springbok fly-half’s praises and it probably won’t be the last time either as Libbok’s record shows that he continuously produces the goods for the Stormers.
On Friday night, the 25-year-old delivered another excellent all-round performance in which he caught the eye with his outstanding game management and playmaking skills while he also contributed 12 points, courtesy of a try, two conversions and a penalty.
However, it’s a moment of magic in the game’s latter stages which will live on long in the memories of Stormers supporters.
With the score 22-17 in Leinster‘s favour, the Stormers were on the attack deep inside the home side’s half and Libbok did brilliantly to stab through a grubber kick, which caught the flat lying Leinster defence by surprise. Clayton Blommetjies then beat Dave Kearney in a foot race before diving on the ball behind the Leinster try-line.
Although he failed to slot the difficult conversion, which would have won the game for his team, Libbok’s excellent try assist spared his team’s blushes – after they led 17-0 at one stage – and secured them a share of the spoils.
Wrong Stormers tactics during early part of second half
As much as the Stormers deserved their half-time lead, they were also the architects of their own downfall during the early part of the second half as their tactics during that period left a lot to be desired.
With the game being played in atrocious weather conditions, the men from the Cape did not play accordingly while Leinster exploited their opponents’ mistakes.
Despite a strong wind, which was prevalent for the entire match, Libbok and Stormers scrum-halves Paul de Wet and Herschel Jantjies opted to launch box kicks and up-and-unders during the opening 20 minutes of the second half which actually worked in Leinster’s favour.
When launching those high kicks, the wind proceeded to blow the ball back towards the Stormers side and on a couple of occasions the visitors were penalised as their players contested for the ball despite it not travelling outside the 10 metre radius from the kicker.
It was only when the Stormers brought on replacements towards the latter part of the match that they changed their tactics as they opted to keep ball in hand and played a tighter game. They soon had better territory and possession, and were ultimately rewarded with Blommetjies’ late try.
Leinster’s excellent depth deserves plenty of praise
Although Leinster were without several first choice players, who were part of the Ireland squad who recently won a Six Nations Grand Slam, it must be remembered that the team who faced the Stormers were on duty for the Irish province during numerous of their URC matches.
In fact, they only made one personnel change to their starting line-up who claimed a 47-27 bonus point win over Edinburgh three weeks ago with Rob Russell coming in for the injured Jamie Osborne.
Leinster are a well drilled and organised outfit who gave a good account of themselves and showed why they are sitting pretty at the top of the URC standings after 16 rounds.
And despite going up against a Stormers side, who were boosted by the return of Springboks Damian Willemse, Steven Kitshoff, Frans Malherbe, Marvin Orie and Deon Fourie as well as a game breaker like Hacjivah Dayimani, Leinster can be proud of their efforts as they put in a solid display.
They might not have won this match but they will be happy that they took the fight to the URC champions and have retained their unbeaten status in the competition.
READ MORE: United Rugby Championship: Leinster confirm top spot despite seeing winning streak halted by Stormers
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