Stormers’ comeback against Dragons was confirmation of growth

rugby14 May 2024 14:57| © SuperSport
By:Gavin Rich
article image
© Gallo Images

The DHL Stormers are back in Galway where two and a bit years ago they squandered a 17-7 lead to lose narrowly in a game where the visiting team’s temperament came under as much scrutiny as the refereeing errors that many felt cost them victory. Any question though around temperament is something that the Stormers defence coach Norman Laker believes has long since been consigned to history.

Indeed, it was their calmness under pressure, perhaps the players being even calmer than the coaches judging from some of the remarks that head coach John Dobson made after the game, that dug the Stormers out of a hole against the Dragons last week and saw them hit target by leaving Newport with a full house of log points.

It was a crucial juncture in the team’s Vodacom United Rugby Championship season, a defeat would have been disastrous and thrown not only a place in the eight team Finals Series but also qualification for next season’s Investec Champions Cup into serious jeopardy. Faced with such pressure, and playing an away game in front of a boisterous, partisan crowd where they were unable to get their hands on the ball in the first 30 minutes, some previous Stormers teams would probably have spat the dummy.

“We have got better at playing the referees and the conditions now than we were when we were last here two years ago and we have developed a really good group of leaders,” said Laker in an online press call from Galway on Tuesday.

“Several youngsters have stepped up and it has contributed to an environment where there is a lot of calmness when the pressure is on. That day we were last here it was probably Kitsie (Steven Kitshoff) fronting for us, but now we have Salmaan Moerat, Frans (Malhberbe), Brok (Harris), Damian Willemse, Dan du Plessis, Warrick Gelant and others who have now been around the block a few times and bring quite a lot of experience to the team.

“I think if last weekend’s game against the Dragons had happened two years ago we could quite easily have lost given the time we spent in our own 22 for the first 30 minutes. But there was a calmness about the leaders in the team and key guys like Manie (Libbok) and Herschel (Jantjies) stepped up and helped keep everyone calm.

“We defended well under pressure and then when the opportunity was there to do so we got out of the areas and in the end we scored some really good tries. I wouldn’t want to be in that position every weekend but the experience of that game last week was a good stepping stone for us going into this week’s game.”


The Stormers’ previous game at the Sportsground, which wasn’t the 4G surface that it is now, was played on 26 February 2022. That means it was still winter, and Laker says that what the Stormers have experienced since arriving in Galway this time is light years different from back then.

“There was a bit of rain here yesterday (Monday) but the rest of the day was just overcast, with no more rain,” said Laker.

“The previous time we were here we had to stop training because it started to hail and everyone was standing under a blanket because the hail was so hard. And then we had to start training again. The conditions were very bad and very different to now.

“The wind is still blowing because we are quite close to the coast, and in that sense it reminds me of the Strand. It is a powerful wind so one half you will play with the wind and the other half you will play against it. I think there will be wind on Saturday but sun is predicted for the day of the game so the ball will not be as wet.”


It wasn’t just the elements the Stormers were up against in a game they lost 19-17 just over two years ago, but also the refereeing. There was adversity for the Stormers in that match that Laker hopes won’t be repeated on Saturday evening.

“In that game we had a lot of disruption as Dan du Plessis had a lapse from a concussion he had picked up in the previous game on the plane on the way to Ireland and couldn’t play, and Warrick Gelant also had an ankle injury. So we had Sergeal Petersen, normally a wing, at fullback, and then in the game itself we had two yellow cards. Ruhan Nel was carded for a high tackle and Sergeal was also yellow carded.

“So we ended up playing quite a bit of that game with 14 men which obviously against a team like Connacht is quite tough as they are a good ball in hand team and without a fullback in position it was hard to defend. Losing after leading by 10 points was hard to take but since then we have learned a lot of lessons about coming here and we are a much better team now playing in northern conditions.”

The Stormers team for Saturday's game, which is the penultimate league fixture for the Stormers and one they have to win if they want to have any hope of making the top four, will be announced on Friday.