The inaugural United Rugby Championship final will have a familiar flavour for South Africans when the Stormers meet the Bulls in next week’s showpiece after two dramatic semifinals.
On Friday, the Bulls upset the odds by edging Irish giants Leinster – winner of the four PRO14s in a row before the tournament morphed into the URC – 27-26 in Dublin.
And on Saturday, it was the Stormers who secured a dramatic, late 17-15 win over Belfast’s Ulster at a raucous DHL Stadium in Cape Town.
The outcome is an early indication and vindication that South African Rugby’s decision to align with Europe was the right one. The inaugural URC will have a South African champion, which will give dissenters in Europe who are unhappy with South Africa’s involvement, something to mull over.
“This is confirmation that we are up there with the top teams in Europe,” Stormers coach John Dobson said. “The Stormers, Bulls and Sharks are stacking up and this is a definitive statement, for sure.”
Fullback Warrick Gelant scored a try to level the match five minutes after the hooter and flyhalf Manie Libbok stepped up to slot the difficult conversion to seal victory.
Libbok had endured a poor match to that point, missing two reasonably simple conversions and made a litany of ill-judged tactical decisions throughout the match.
It appeared as if the chance to win and ensure a home final next weekend had evaded the Stormers when replacement lock Adre Smith was red-carded in the 71st minute.
Ulster led 15-1src at the break after the Stormers raced into an early 1src-src lead with tries from hooker JJ Kotze and No 8 Evan Roos for the home team.
But the Ulstermen remained composed and clawed their way back through tries from wing Rob Balacoune and fullback Stewart Moore, which silenced the frothing crowd.
The Stormers struggled to break dow
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