Manie Libbok slotted a late conversion as the Stormers dramatically beat Ulster in Cape Town to set up a United Rugby Championship final against the Bulls.
Cape Town — What a way to set up an all-South African United Rugby Championship final!
Every single fan in attendance at Cape Town Stadium probably spent more time off — or at least at the edge of — their seats in that final quarter, that’s how ridiculously thrilling the Stormers’ semi-final battle royale against Ulster at was on Saturday.
Stormers flyhalf Manie Libbok showed incredible composure to connect his conversion after a late try by fullback Warrick Gelant locked the scores at 15-15.
It was tough, it was tense, it was downright frustrating at times. But the Stormers ensured that they claimed their spot in an all-South African URC final against the Bulls next weekend… playing with 14 men, no less!
The hosts wasted no time and got on the scoresheet early on after Man of the Match Damian Willemse – who was in absolute beast mode on the day — won a turnover inside his own half before they sent it to touch, with hooker JJ Kotze going over for the opener after the ensuing maul (5-0).
The Stormers were dealt a blow when breakdown buff Deon Fourie left the field with an injury in the second quarter. He was replaced by Nama Xaba, and before he went off, he – along with speed king Seabelo Senatla – did some brilliant work to stop a try after Ulster’s ever-ready backs threatened the hosts’ try line.
Whenever magic happens, you should just assume that Evan Roos was a big part of the trickery, and nine times out of ten, you would be right.
A big talking point leading up to the game was of course the battle between the Stormers’ back-row behemoth and Duane Vermeulen. And yet again – as it to be expected – the young back rower didn’t back down, not one bit, and can confidently feel that he had a bigger presence than the Springbok No 8 incumbent.
He was a massive presence in the game and showed his class when the Stormers scored his second try.
After Ulster were caught napping at a lineout, Roos peeled down the blindside before finding Herschel Jantjies. The Bok scrumhalf pulled off a simple — but good looking — inside ball back to Roos, who just had to use his pace to find the try line. Flyhalf Manie Libbok missed his target with this one again (10-0).
At times if felt like the Stormers didn’t even need a card to go one man down, thanks to referee Mike Addamson. A case in point was Ulster’s first try.
The visitors got a five-pointer when Rob Baloucoune got over the whitewash for a try that never should have stood after that clear-as-day forward pass. There was a bit of justice as they missed the conversion, but they took the lead when Stewart Moore went over again, this time getting full points (10-12).
Godlen Masimla came on for wing Leolin Zas shortly before half time after the top try-scorer in the competition went off with what looked like a leg injury.
Ulster extended their lead when flyhalf John Cooney slotted a penalty to go 10-15 up at half time.
Ulster came out strong in the second half and looked more polished than the Stormers, who lacked that clinical edge at times, but the hosts did well off to cope with the relentless pressure.
The tension only grew as the clocked ticked on, and the Stormers were dealt the worse possible blow when Adre Smith was red-carded with 10 minutes to go.
The Stormers camped in Ulster’s half in the last quarter and only got points for it at the very end. But man, it was worth it.
The Stormers worked their way up to the try line in superb style a number of times, but their cause was certainly not helped by Mike Adamson’s officiating that must have been guided by a law book other than World Rugby’s.
They stayed in Ulster’s 22 right up to the 80th minute, and there are no words to describe how nerve-wrecking that period was.
It came down to the last scrum, and the Stormers made no mistakes there. Moving the ball through the hands, a long skip pass to Warrick Gelant out wide set up the try that levelled the scored at 15-all.
Libbok handled the pressure superbly to slot the ball through the uprights from an angle.
Take a bow Stormers, take a bow.
Stormers 17 — Tries: JJ Kotze, Evan Roos, Warrick Gelant Conversion: Manie Libbok Red card: Adre Smith
Ulster 15 — Tries: Rob Baloucoune (2) Conversions: John Cooney Penalty: Cooney