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Thursday, February 2, 2023

Manie Libbok shows he can step and score himself as bonus-point Stormers extinguish Dragons’ fire

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Cape Town — The Stormers may have mixed and matched their team, but they played some outstanding rugby to claim a 34-26 bonus-point victory over the Dragons in Gqeberha on Saturday.

John Dobson’s side attained their four-try bonus point within just 36 minutes on a sunny day at the Nelson Mandela Stadium, and despite a late rally from the visitors, the Stormers secured their sixth victory in eight games, with one draw.

While Dobson’s first goal would have been to beat the Dragons, he also needed to see whether some of his fringe players can excel at United Rugby Championship level, considering their Champions Cup campaign begins next weekend against Clermont Auvergne in France.

And in that regard, the Stormers boss can be delighted with the depth he has at his disposal for a relentless festive-season schedule, even though it was a far from perfect performance.

While the Dragons were no great shakes, having come off a loss to the Lions in Johannesburg last week too, the Cape pack drilled their Welsh counterparts in every respect to produce a surfeit of front-foot ball for a dynamic backline.

Tighthead prop Neethling Fouche won a number of scrum penalties against Dragons loosehead Aki Seiuli, and even newcomer Kwenzo Blose got on top of Lloyd Fairbrother on the other side of the front row.

The Stormers maul also rampaged forward, and that is how the first two tries were scored, by flank Junior Pokomela — who was a late replacement for the injured Nama Xaba (back) — in the ninth minute, and then hooker Joseph Dweba seven minutes later.

Then, almost as if to remind the big men upfront who the real stars of the show are, Springbok pivot Manie Libbok and the rest of the backline began to weave their magic.

There were some scintillating passages of attacking play, with the offloads, running lines and long passes for the Capetonians at their adopted home ground making for a flowing game.

One of the finest tries of the season so far came in the 22nd minute, where wing Tristan Leyds — who enjoyed a busy encounter and showcased a similar skill-set to his Bok brother Dillyn — won a high ball, and the ball was flung down the line before Leolin Zas sped away, with Clayton Blommetjies putting Ruhan Nel over the whitewash.

As if that wasn’t enough, Libbok took charge himself. Receiving the ball near the halfway line from a scrum, the Stormers No 10 — who was one of the stand-outs on the Bok November tour — went to the left and then stepped to the right, and raced downfield before leaving the last defender for dead to bring up the bonus point.

Even though wing Jordan Williams grabbed an intercept try for the Dragons, it was a long road back for them at 28-7 down at halftime.

It would’ve given the Welsh club some hope for the second stanza, and they seemed to play with greater urgency after the break.

They were rewarded for their endeavours when No 1 Seiuli forced his way over from a lineout maul in the 48th minute.

But with the job virtually already done, and with bigger fish to fry in the Champions Cup over the next few weeks, the Stormers kept their shape in defence, with Bok replacement forward Deon Fourie winning a couple of breakdown penalties.

Libbok slotted a penalty to stretch the lead to 31-12, and when wing Sio Tomkinson was yellow-carded in the 57th minute for an off-the-ball tackle on Stormers flank Willie Engelbrecht, it looked like the visitors were never going to get back into the game.

But Dragons flyhalf JJ Hanrahan grabbed a consolation try with 10 minutes left, and when replacement prop Josh Reynolds barged over from a maul, the lead was suddenly reduced to eight points at 34-26.

The Stormers managed to close out the game, though, but Dobson would have been annoyed by the fact that his team didn’t finish off a few promising moves in the second half.

Points-Scorers

Stormers 34 – Tries: Junior Pokomela, Joseph Dweba, Ruhan Nel, Manie Libbok. Conversions: Libbok (3), Clayton Blommetjies (1). Penalties: Libbok (2).

Dragons 26 – Tries: Jordan Williams, Aki Seiuli, JJ Hanrahan, Josh Reynolds. Conversions: Hanrahan (2), Will Reed (1).

@ashfakmohamed

IOL Sport

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