Stormers suffer double injury blow before URC semi against ‘tough’ Connacht

Stormers suffer double injury blow before URC semi against ‘tough’ Connacht
Marvin Orie takes a lineout in United Rugby Championship quarterfinal against the Bulls at Cape Town Stadium on 6 May 2023. (Photo: Carl Fourie / Gallo Images)

Connacht relish their underdog status and while Ireland and British & Irish Lions centre Bundee Aki is their most famous player currently, like the Stormers, they are a strong and determined team.

Play-off rugby is seldom easy or straightforward and for the Stormers, Saturday’s United Rugby Championship semifinal against Connacht became more complicated as the Bok duo of Deon Fourie and Marvin Orie were ruled out.

Fourie could not shake off a hamstring strain while Orie’s “shoulder knock” appears to be a little more serious than initially anticipated.

It’s unclear if the duo will be available for the final in a fortnight if the Stormers progress. But that’s a problem for another day. They first need to take care of business at Cape Town Stadium in what are expected to be blustery but dry conditions.

Coach John Dobson was forced to draft in Willie Engelbrecht on the flank for Fourie, with Ben-Jason Dixon stepping into lock as Orie’s replacement. Dixon has been superb as a blindside flank this season and will bring mobility and a high work rate to the second row.

As a consequence, Currie Cup regulars Marcel Theunissen (flank) and Connor Evans (lock) have been called up. Dobson also opted against a six/two split between forwards and backs as he did for the 33-21 quarterfinal win over the Bulls.

Evan Roos of the Stormers during the United Rugby Championship match against Connacht at Danie Craven Stadium in Stellenbosch on 24 September 2022. (Photo: Ashley Vlotman / Gallo Images)

Instead, he has gone five/three on the bench, meaning veteran flyhalf and Currie Cup skipper Jean-Luc du Plessis is called up for the crunch game.

Dobson made the right noises about the setback, but there is no escaping that losing their primary breakdown menace and their lineout general for the most important game of the year, is a huge blow for the home team. 

“While it is disappointing not to have Deon and Marvin in the team, we have every confidence in the players who have come in, who have all proven their worth for us already this season,” Dobson said.

Engelbrecht has been impressive when asked to play this season and will need to produce the game of his life, especially as Connacht’s excellent Shamus Hurley-Langton will pose a major threat at the breakdown.

Of course, the Stormers still have home-ground advantage and the benefits that brings, but this news will have lifted the mood in the Connacht camp.

Connacht unchanged

Connacht edged a bruising encounter against Ulster 15-10 in Belfast last week. They have made the long trek to South Africa and start as underdogs, but less so than it first seemed.

Coach Andy Friend had a fully fit roster to choose from this week and has stuck with the same starters and replacements to face the Stormers.

Stormers Connacht

Deon Fourie has been ruled put of the United Rugby Championship semifinal against Connacht because of a hamstring strain. (Photo: Ashley Vlotman / Gallo Images)

Jack Carty captains the side, while it’ll be a 99th appearance for Tom Farrell, and Jack Aungier will earn his 50th cap for the province if called upon from the bench.

A win for Connacht would see them reach a major final for the second time in their history, after the PRO12 success of 2016.

“Last Friday night, to anyone outside the squad, we were the clear underdogs, and tomorrow will be no different,” Friend said.

“Yet for us on the inside, there is enormous belief in our ability, and that is all that matters. We enter the semifinal with the same 23 who started last week, which is great testament to our players’ toughness and resilience, and also to the work of our athletic performance and medical teams.

“All bodies are fit and healthy and have fully recovered from the travel down here to Cape Town.

“It will be a huge game as we take on the defending champions in their own backyard, but these are the days you want to be involved in.

Shane Delahunt of Connacht makes a break during their United Rugby Championship clash against the Stormers at The Sportsground in Galway, Ireland, on 26 February 2022. (Photo: Harry Murphy / Sportsfile / Gallo Images)

“Pete Wilkins (assistant coach) and the other coaches have presented a very clever game plan, and with the confidence that’s in the squad at present, there’s genuine excitement about the challenge and opportunity that tomorrow brings.”

Connacht are the least fashionable of Ireland’s four provinces, with Leinster and Munster, and to a lesser extent Ulster, usually grabbing the headlines.

But they relish their underdog status and while Ireland and British & Irish Lions centre Bundee Aki is their most famous player currently, like the Stormers, they are a strong and determined team.

Tough country

They play out of Galway in the west of Ireland where a rugged climate makes tough people.

“It’s a special place to grow up, but it’s a tough place to grow up,” said Connacht’s long-serving fullback Tiernan O’Halloran, who came through the Connacht system as a 16-year-old and knows the psyche of this team well.

“The weather is one thing. It’s not the easiest place to play, and it’s not the easiest place to train,” he adds of a region that is the smallest of the Irish provinces with the smallest budget of the Irish teams, and where the weather is like playing against a 16th man on the field and where it may even hail during a match.

“It goes back a long time in history as a place where you have to fight for everything and earn everything. You’re given nothing. That’s been instilled in Connacht rugby – that you absolutely fight for everything that we have.

“We don’t have state-of-the-art facilities, but we try our best with what we have and we don’t take anything for granted. When our backs are against the wall, we stick together and we have that ethos in our team.

“Connacht rugby is about community. It’s instilled in every player that we represent the people of Connacht as best as we can. It’s a place that isn’t the easiest upbringing, so we try to represent our people as best we can. Everything we do is for our community and our families.”

Connacht take on the Stormers in Stellenbosch on 24 September 2022. (Photo: Ashley Vlotman / Gallo Images)

Connacht’s South African forwards coach Dewald Senekal has seen first-hand the unique spirit of this team.

“There’s a lot of pride in this team. A lot of these players were seen as extras elsewhere and they’ve been given a home at Connacht and are really cared for,” Senekal said.

“The club itself has had to fight for its place in Irish rugby for many years. These are hardened people who know how to survive and keep fighting.

There is a toughness to them and a passion, but also a kindness. As players they may not be the biggest men in the world, but they play much bigger than their stature because of their pride and their passion for the game of rugby.” DM


Stormers: 15 Damian Willemse, 14 Angelo Davids, 13 Ruhan Nel, 12 Dan du Plessis, 11 Leolin Zas, 10 Manie Libbok, 9 Herschel Jantjies, 8 Evan Roos, 7 Hacjivah Dayimani, 6 Willie Engelbrecht, 5 Ruben van Heerden, 4 Ben-Jason Dixon, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Joseph Dweba, 1 Steven Kitshoff (captain).
Reserves: 16 JJ Kotze, 17 Ali Vermaak, 18 Neethling Fouche, 19 Connor Evans, 20 Marcel Theunissen, 21 Paul de Wet, 22 Jean-Luc du Plessis, 23 Sacha Feinberg-Mngomezulu.

Connacht: 15 Tiernan O’Halloran, 14 John Porch, 13 Tom Farrell, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 Mack Hansen, 10 Jack Carty (captain), 9 Caolin Blade, 8 Cian Prendergast, 7 Conor Oliver, 6 Shamus Hurley-Langton, 5 Niall Murray, 4 Josh Murphy, 3 Finlay Bealham, 2 Dave Heffernan, 1 Denis Buckley.
Reserves: 16 Dylan Tierney-Martin, 17 Jordan Duggan, 18 Jack Aungier, 19 Oisín Dowling, 20 Jarrad Butler, 21 Kieran Marmion, 22 Tom Daly, 23 Byron Ralston.


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