Stormers succumb in nail-biter against Stade Rochelais

06 April 2024 - 19:25
By Stuart Hess
Quentin Lespiaucq Brettes of La Rochelle charges at the Stormers defence in the Champions Cup clash in Cape Town.
Image: Grant Pitcher/Gallo Images Quentin Lespiaucq Brettes of La Rochelle charges at the Stormers defence in the Champions Cup clash in Cape Town.

It was not to be a case of déjà vu for the Manie Libbok and the Stormers, who succumbed to a 22-21 defeat in the Champions Cup knockout match against the two-time defending champions Stade Rochelais after the flyhalf’s last-ditch conversion sailed wide. 

In December, Libbok’s kick from virtually the same spot to convert a last-second try gave the Stormers a one-point win over the French club, but it was the opposite on Saturday, as the strong gusts forced the kick wide of the uprights. 

It had been a gutsy fightback from the Stormers, who were forced to defend for large periods of the second half as Stade Rochelais exerted their superiority through their powerful forward pack.

However, the hosts created some magic in the 75th minute that allowed Damian Willemse to sprint up the left touchline. A protracted period of scrums being reset drew out the agony for the players and spectators, before finally Libbok was able to free Suleiman Hartzenberg with a delightful cross-field kick on the right-hand side. 

The resultant conversion missed, leaving a look of anguish on Libbok’s face and groans from the crowd of 26,000 at Cape Town Stadium. 

The Hartzenberg try was virtually sole moment of joy for the hosts in a second half, in which they defended manfully but couldn’t hold out against Stade’s greater bulk.    

The Stormers started the better of the teams as the French side struggled to adapt to the blustery conditions, and while both teams desire to play an up-tempo game was worthy of praise, the errors that followed made for an unattractive first half. 

There was one moment to delight the home fans when enterprise from Warrick Gelant exploited the extra room available because of Will Skelton’s yellow card, allowing Libbok to make a beautiful break which led to a try under the posts by Herschel Jantjies.

The Stormers held a 13-0 lead at the break, but the bruising physicality was already taking its toll as they lost both flankers, Ben-Jason Dixon and Deon Fourie, to injury before halftime. 

Worse followed with Dixon’s replacement Hacjivah Dayimani copping an inadvertent blow to the head from Moerat. A few minutes later it was the Stormers captain who was forced off the field with a head injury after positioning himself poorly trying to tackle Skelton.

The Australian lock was a menacing figure throughout, using his imposing size to crash through would-be defenders but also showing off some deft distribution that allowed his forward pack to maintain momentum. 

From there it was the visiting captain Gregory Aldritt, who also gradually grew into the game, who punched holes in the Stormers defence, while at the base of the rucks Tawera Kerr-Barlow’s swift passing and clever use of space caused further trouble for the hosts.

The two-time defending champions surged over for three tries, all by members of the forward pack, indicating their superiority up front. The pressure the visitors created saw the Stormers concede a number of penalties, which eventually led to a yellow card for replacement Marcel Theunissen on the hour mark.

However, they deserve credit for the courage they showed to keep the deficit to six points heading into the latter stages. They created the chance their bravery deserved, but sadly couldn’t repeat the final outcome they managed four months ago.


Stormers (21) — Tries: Herschel Jantjies, Suleiman Hartzenberg. Conversion: Manie Libbok. Penalties: Libbok (3) 

Stade Rochelais (22) — Tries: Louis Peneverne, Gregory Aldritt, Joel Sclavi. Conversions: Antoine Hastoy (2). Penalty: Hastoy