2023 DHL Stormers vs Connacht Rugby

DHL Stormers v Connacht: United Rugby Championship Semi-Final Preview

DHL Stormers v Connacht: United Rugby Championship Semi-Final Preview

DHL Stormers vs Connacht Rugby United Rugby Championship semi-final preview. Mack Hansen and co will tackle Damian Willemse and the Stormers in Cape Town.

May 12, 2023 by Philip Bendon
DHL Stormers v Connacht: United Rugby Championship Semi-Final Preview

Connacht Rugby have arrived in Cape Town ahead of their United Rugby Championship semi-final clash with the reigning champions DHL Stormers. 

Upsetting the natural order of things in the quarterfinals, Andy Friend’s side overturned an in-form Ulster side at the Kingspan Stadium in Belfast to secure their place in the last four. 

Their biggest supporters in the quarterfinals will now be their foes in the semi-finals, as the Stormers will be thanking their lucky stars they were not the ones jumping on a long-haul flight this week. Having slipped up significantly against Munster in round 17, John Dobson’s side finished the regular season in 3rd position on the table and, as such, were staring down the possibility of a semi-final in Belfast. 

Thus, it could be said that both sides are very much in bonus territory this weekend as they look to continue their fairy-tale ride. 

Meeting on two previous occasions, the two sides are locked at one win apiece. Crucially both victories were achieved by the home side, with the Stormers opening their season with a 38 – 15 win in Stellenbosch over Friend’s back in September. 

DHL Stormers, Connacht Rugby Team News 

Dobson has made two injury-enforced changes to the side that defeated the Vodacom Bulls in the quarterfinals. 

With Springbok duo Deon Fourie and Marvin Orie out, Willie Englebrecht and Ben Jason-Dixon will come into the starting line-up. 

The reshuffling continues for the Cape Townians on the bench with lock Connor Evans, backrow Marcel Theunissen and utility back Jean-Luc du Plessis coming into the 23. 

For the visitors, it is a case of as you were with Friend opting to make no changes to his side despite the relatively quick 8-day turnaround. 

Key Match-Up In DHL Stormers vs. Connacht Rugby 

Although not directly facing off, this game will feature two of the game’s best-attacking players in Ireland, winger Mack Hansen and Springbok utility back Damian Willemse. 

Both men know how to sniff out a counterattack and, more often than not, either set up a teammate or cross the line themselves. 

Hansen, who has been a revelation for both Connacht and Ireland over the past two seasons, is a silky-smooth runner who is not afraid to mix it up in the physical stakes. Winning a crucial turnover in the quarterfinal whilst also putting in several crunch tackles, Hansen was a key cog in the Connacht defensive game plan.

In attack, Hansen is the epitome of a modern-day back three-player as he continually searches for work. Often popping up on Jack Carty’s inside shoulder or running a hard line off Bundee Aki, expect Hansen to get his hands on the ball often. 

Willemse, on the other hand, is quite possibly the most versatile backline player in the game today. Equally adept at flyhalf, centre or fullback, he uses a combination of vision, pace and power. 

Operating as a second distributor, Willemse steps into the line, which not only takes the pressure off flyhalf Manie Libbok but also gives the defence a different look. 

Throw into the mix his booming kicking game, and you can see why Dobson has regularly picked him in the 15 shirt this season. 

DHL Stormers vs. Connacht Rugby Prediction  

Against all the odds, Connacht overturned Ulster in impressive fashion last weekend. Yet, as many of the South African sides found this season, travel plays a key factor in success. 

Whilst they had an extra day to prepare, given their quarterfinal was on Friday, travelling to the other end of the earth takes its toll. 

Additionally, the Stormers are second only to Munster in terms of squad quality and are the reigning champions. Seemingly remaining in second gear during their quarterfinal dismantling of the Bulls, they are a scary proposition when on song. 

The key for Connacht will be their ability to limit the Stormers' ability to score points in quick blocks. Blitzing teams in intense ten-minute blocks, one can blink and be 14 points behind the Cape Townians. 

Certainly, this will be an intriguing fixture, and anything is possible in knockout rugby, but the Stormers deserve the respect as the home team and reigning champions. 

This will be closer than many expect, but the home side will be progressing to a second final in two seasons. Stormers by 4.

DHL Stormers, Connacht Rugby Line-Ups:

DHL 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 (c) 

Replacements: 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 Rugby: 15 Tiernan O’Halloran, 14 John Porch, 13 Tom Farrell, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 Mack Hansen, 10 Jack Carty, 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 

Replacements: 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