United Rugby Championship

United Rugby Championship Game Of The Week Preview

United Rugby Championship Game Of The Week Preview

United Rugby Championship game of the week, Flo Rugby preview of the Stormers vs the Glasgow Warriors at Scotstoun Stadium.

Jan 5, 2023 by Philip Bendon
United Rugby Championship Game Of The Week Preview

It’s no holds barred in this weekend’s Flo Rugby United Rugby Championship game of the week as the defending champion DHL Stormers travel to Glasgow to tackle a red-hot Warriors side. 

Both teams come into the fixture on a sublime run of form with five wins in their past six fixtures in all competitions including dominant victories in their respective derby matches over the past fortnight. 

For DHL Stormers head coach John Dobson, 2022 could not have been more successful as his side won the inaugural URC title whilst also closing out the year undefeated at home. 

Spearheaded by a number of exciting young Springbok stars the Stormers have proven to be the class of the South African challenge thus far this season. 

Their hosts on the other hand began the season on more rocky ground with a heavy opening round defeat away to Benetton being followed by an up and down run through the first two months of the season. 

Since the beginning of December however the Warriors have been one of the form teams in the league as head coach Franco Smith continues to bed in his vision for the club. 

Whilst the reigning champions will enter the fixture as deserved favourites, there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the Scottish sides chances of springing an upset. 

Starting with their home record thus far this season, the Warriors are holding onto an impressive 100% record in all competitions scoring an average of 33 points per game at Scotstoun. 

For the Stormers their two defeats and a draw have all come on the road and in less-than-ideal weather conditions. Early indications are for a cold, dry and windy forecast at the time of kick-off on Sunday which may well have an adverse effect on a side coming from midsummer South African conditions.


Key Match-Up 

In terms of attacking talent, it doesn’t get much better than this as both sides possess some of the most devastating ball players in the competition. 

One battle in particular stands out as two of the hottest young talents to emerge from the Autumn Nations Series in Damien Willemse and Ollie Smith are set to once again be on display. 

Willemse who has risen to the pantheon of world class players has become one of South African Rugby’s most valuable assets heading into the 2023 Rugby World Cup. 

A simply devastating side stepper with oodles of explosive power to breakthrough tackles, Willemse is one of the very best playmakers in the game.  

Equally at home at fullback, centre of flyhalf there is no player who has quite mastered the art of being the complete backline player quite like Willemse over the past twelve months.  

Operating at fullback in last week’s victory over the Emirates Lions at Cape Town Stadium, Willemse put his stamp on proceedings early with a sublime show and go try. 

Working under the pretence that Willemse is likely to line up in the number fifteen shirt again this weekend his battle with Smith will make for must see tv.  

Two years Willemse’s junior, Smith is certainly not at the established level of his Springbok counterpart. Yet Smith is being earmarked for great things in both the Warriors and Scottish shirts in the coming months and years. 

Smith’s ability to hit the line at just the right angle to find a soft defensive shoulder is one of his biggest strengths and was on full display as he cantered over for a try on his international debut in November. 

Having already been spoken about in high regard for several years as one of the brightest young talents coming through the underage system, Smith has shown he is more than ready for the big time.


Inside Knowledge 

Interestingly there is a significant amount of overlap between the two squads in both the coaching and playing departments. 

Skippered by South African born winger Kyle Steyn, the Warriors have two former Stormers in their playing ranks in centre Huw Jones and prop Oli Kebble, as well as other South African born players in hooker Alan Dell, loosehead Nathan Macbeth, and locks JP du Preez and Sintu Manjezi. 

In the coaching box, Warriors head coach Franco Smith will be familiar with a number of the Stormers players having coached both the Cheetahs and as attack coach for the Springbok under Allister Coetzee.  

During his time with the Cheetahs, he coached current Stormers players Clayton Blommetjies, Joseph Dweba and Junior Pokomela. A point that Stormers assistant coach Norman Laker was sure to make, “Franco is a very good coach, he coached South Africa with Allister.” 

“He will have one or two things up his sleeve, he always has a trick up his sleeve.” 

“Then there are players with SA connections who’ve played for us like Huw Jones and Oli Kebble. There will be some familiar faces and we’re looking forward to see them.” 

“Franco had a phenomenal attacking game during his time at the Cheetahs, a ball-in-hand approach. But some of our guys – Clayton Blommetjies, Joseph Dweba and Junior Pokomela – all played under him, so we can tap into that knowledge a bit, especially on how he liked to play against the Stormers or Western Province.” Lake concluded.

Just how much of a bearing this will have on the game is yet to be seen, it does however make for an interesting subplot as several familiar faces become reacquainted with one another.


Defensive Line Speed 

Speaking this week ahead of the clash the Warriors coaching staff made a point to discuss the Stormers incredible defensive line speed which has been mightily effective at shutting down opposition attacks. 

Speaking to Scottish Rugby publication “The Offside Line”, Warriors assistant coach Nigel Carolan said, “The Stormers are so different to every other team you play against, not only are they the reigning URC champions but they defend in a way which is different,”   

“They bring an unbelievable amount of line-speed, it’s almost reckless, and you really need to earn the right to find the space. You do that by taking them through a number of phases and then opportunities will open up.”

“It is a great challenge which is really focussing the minds of not only the coaches but also the players.” 

“We’ve challenged the guts in the ‘other team’ to create that picture and simulate as much as possible how hard that line-speed comes during our training runs this week,”  

“The defence comes so hard at you that it puts you in a position where you have less time on the ball and have to make quicker decisions. The execution of skills has to be on the money, but when you see the space and you get the ball there, there can be a lot of opportunity as well.”

“These opportunities are not necessarily there on the first or second or third phase, but as you take them through the phases the space starts to open up – through them, around them, in behind them. 

“We saw when the Stormers played at Cardiff a few weeks back that it is very difficult to maintain that level of line-speed for every phase, and eventually they get a bit clustered, the backfield gets compromised, and space opens up. We just have to be patient, take them through the phases, and then identify opportunities as they arise.”


Key Stats 

This weekend’s clash features two of the top five points scorers through the first eleven rounds of the season.

Leading the way, the DHL Stormers’ Manie Libbok who is the first player to crack the 100 points mark this season coming courtesy of his 87% kicking completion percentage. The Springbok flyhalf also tops the conversions scored chart with 25 ensuring his side capitalises fully on their incredible attacking game. 

For the Warriors nippy scrumhalf George Horne has been his side’s sharpshooter with 71 points with an 89% completion percentage from the kicking tee which is 5th best in the league. 

On the attacking front Warriors winger Sebastián Cancelliere has been one of the most potent running threats in the competition. The Argentinean international leads the defenders beaten category with 25 and sits second in terms of clean breaks with 12. 

Neither side rank particularly high on the combined defensive statistics table with the DHL Stormers sitting in 13th just one spot ahead of the Warriors in 14th

Crucially they do both however rank highly in the tackle success rate with the Stormers sitting in 3rd with a 90% success rate with the Warriors just behind them in 6th with 89% success rate. 

One key area where the Warriors hold a clear team superiority is in the turnover department where they rank 3rd with 8- turnovers won so far this season. Top among the Warriors players is Scottish international Fraser Brown with 8 followed closely by Cancelliere who has 7.

Written by Philip Bendon