Ross Roche

By Ross Roche

Senior sports writer

Stormers gearing up for thrilling battle against La Rochelle

John Dobson believes his team had the perfect preparation after they were forced to fight tooth-and-nail to beat giants Ulster.

It is set to possibly be the biggest game of their season when the Stormers welcome double defending Champions Cup champs La Rochelle back to Cape Town Stadium for their last 16 knockout on Saturday afternoon.

It will essentially be round two between the South African and French juggernauts after they went toe-to-toe during the competition group stage in Cape Town in December, where the Stormers came back from the dead to clinch a last gasp 21-20 win after the full-time hooter.

At that stage of the season both teams were not doing too well, with the Stormers struggling in the URC and La Rochelle in the Top 14, while both teams had lost their Champions Cup openers.

However, this time around both are in much better form, ranked fifth on their respective logs, while they have also enjoyed winning runs in the Champions Cup.

Classic clash

It is thus all set up to be an absolute classic and Stormers coach John Dobson believes his team had the perfect preparation after they were forced to fight tooth-and-nail to win a 13-7 arm wrestle against Irish giants Ulster in the United Rugby Championship (URC) over the past weekend.

“(The Ulster game) will be very helpful for La Rochelle. It will be a different size of animal coming,” said Dobson.

“At least we were playing Stormers rugby in the second half. It’s just frustrating to leave so many tries out there. It will be great preparation, but those first 20 minutes were tough.

“Selection will be a problem, fitting all these guys in. It’s a chicken and egg situation, do you choose to stop La Rochelle, by picking your most physical guys, or do you think you can break them open, which might require something else?

“It’s going to be a ‘Test’ match. They are one of the best club teams in the world, better than most ‘Test’ teams. They would be in the top 10 of World Rugby’s rankings without any stress.”

Ulster test

In the Ulster match, the Stormers produced a dreadful first-half performance, but they impressed on defence to luckily trail only 7-0 at half-time, before fighting back in the second half with 13 unanswered points for a hard-fought win in the end.

“To be honest I was a bit stumped (by their first-half performance). Physically, we were amazing. We kept smashing them in double tackles. But when we got the ball, we just hacked it away or kicked it out,” explained Dobson.

“It was a lesson for us. We tweaked our defence at half-time, but it was a lesson for us. What gave us hope was that we were great physically on defence. It was tough.

“Ulster were outstanding. But the truth is that we butchered three or four tries against the Bulls, at least five or six last week (against Edinburgh) and (against Ulster) it was similar.”

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