United Rugby Championship: Five takeaways from Stormers v Bulls as Manie Libbok steers the hosts into the semi-finals
Following the Stormers’ United Rugby Championship (URC) quarter-final victory over the Bulls, Planet Rugby selects five takeaways from the action.
Manie Libbok steers Stormers into the semi-final
The Stormers and Libbok, in particular, were a bit off-colour in the final URC regular season matches, but they were back to their best in the quarter-final.
The influential fly-half sliced through the Bulls’ defence in the build-up to Hacjivah Dayimani’s opening score for the hosts. He then popped a delightful kick off his supposed weaker left foot and threw a super ball out to Deon Fourie to set up Leolin Zas for the Stormers’ second try as they punished the Bulls for a poor lineout throw.
A sublime first half from the playmaker helped his side to a 17-0 lead, adding seven points from the tee. It was much the same in the second half from the Springbok pivot, who controlled the Stormers‘ attack sublimely, with him and Herschel Jantjies working wonderfully in tandem to secure the victory, with the pack setting a great platform to do so.
Libbok’s form has fluctuated throughout the season for the Stormers, but John Dobson will be pleased to see his pivot hitting top form in the business end of the URC.
With both sides scoring three tries, it was Libbok’s flawless kicking display and 18 points that proved to be the difference.
Bulls’ soft underbelly
The Bulls never really faded out of the match as they continually strived to get back into the fight. However, soft moments of inaccuracy cost Jake White’s charges.
The opening try is a perfect example, as centre Stedman Gans was left defending three Stormers’ attackers with over 20 metres to cover. After Embrose Papier brilliantly denied Joseph Dweba a try, the Bulls failed to secure their own lineout and the hosts pounced.
In the opening 30-odd minutes, the Bulls managed to stop the Stormers four times from five-metre lineouts, even when down a man, showing their resilience, but the hosts pounced when the Bulls switched off for a split second.
With Siya Kolisi sidelined, the battle between Fourie and Marco van Staden was billed as a Springboks dress rehearsal and a straight slog out for the pair to stake their claim.
Fourie made his return from injury in this game and was quickly up to his old tricks, pestering the Bulls breakdown, and while he won just one turnover, he was a magnet for pink jerseys who identified his threat. The veteran back-rower once again showed his all-round skills with a solid defensive shift and threw the pass to assist Zas’ try.
Both players left the pitch before the hour mark, but the breakdown battle only heated up from there.
The Stormers came up with the turnovers at crucial moments, with Evan Roos thriving in this area of the game as he claimed four at the contact area. Stormers captain Steven Kitshoff was just as effective, claiming a momentum-swinging penalty as the Bulls looked to make a late comeback.
Stormers win the fierce kicking battle
As mentioned above, Libbok was sublime for the Stormers in all facets, but he was helped by the overall kicking game of his side.
Dobson’s team successfully turned Johan Goosen, who was shifted into the full-back jersey before kick-off, and put him and Chris Smith under immense pressure in the Bulls’ final quarter of the pitch.
The likes of Jantjies, Ruhan Nel, Damian Willemse and Dan du Plessis kept the pressure on the Bulls as they regularly kicked on the front foot. The Bulls struggled to deal with the hosts’ kicks, except for Kurt-Lee Arendse. Goosen’s nasty-looking injury was a direct result of the pressure he was put under throughout the game, and hopefully we will see him make a swift recovery.
Goosen and Arendse did combine well with their kick return, with the latter having a fantastic game under the high ball. His ability to regain possession from the high kicks kept the Bulls in the game, but unfortunately, they could not capitalise on the opportunities he created.
Stormers continue to dominate the North-South Derby
White’s side will undoubtedly feel hard done by for some of the contentious decisions from the officials but, at the end of the day, it was lapses in intensity and decision-making that cost his side.
Conversely, the Stormers kept the pressure on and stuck to their structures, even when the Bulls hung on and denied scores time and time again.
The Stormers remain the Bulls’ bogey team having lost the last four URC league matches, last season’s final and now this quarter-final. All the hallmarks of a potential victory were there in flashes for the Pretoria-based side, but more was needed to see them over the line.
The Bulls pack stayed in the fight against the Stormers’ powerful scrummaging pack and fought hard at the gain line. But when things just weren’t going their way was a seeming lack of belief that they could get claim the win.
As for the Stormers, Connacht’s win over Ulster means that they will host their semi-final and be confident with their incredible record at home recently. The defending champions will fancy their chances of sealing another final spot.
READ MORE: United Rugby Championship: Stormers ease past Bulls in replay of last season’s final
The article United Rugby Championship: Five takeaways from Stormers v Bulls as Manie Libbok steers the hosts into the semi-finals appeared first on Planetrugby.com.