Nerveless 14-man Stormers grab dramatic last-gasp win over Ulster
Warrick Gelant scored an 85th-minute try and Manie Libbok struck a nerveless winning conversion as the Stormers clinched a dramatic 17-15 victory over Ulster to reach the URC grand final. Ulster looked to be heading towards a Belfast meeting with the Bulls next weekend, with their 15-10 half-time advantage holding firm for most of the second half and the Stormers reduced to 14 men following Adre Smith’s red card.
However, a box-office conclusion saw the hosts find Gelant in space on the left wing to pull level before Libbok – who had missed with all of his previous attempts at goal – fired over the winning kick. Next weekend’s final will now be staged in Cape Town, with the Stormers earning hosting duties having finished higher than the Bulls in the URC table.
Fresh from their quarter-final home win over Edinburgh, JJ Kotze and Evan Roos had given the Stormers an early 10-0 lead before tries from Rob Baloucoune and Stewart Moore, along with five points from the boot of John Cooney, earned Ulster – beaten by only three points at the DHL Stadium during the regular season – an advantage that almost saw them to a famous victory.
Ulster arrived in Cape Town hoping to avoid a repeat of their slow start in that previous meeting when the Stormers flew out of the blocks to open up a 14-0 lead inside the opening ten minutes. However, the hosts got off the mark early once again, with Kotze touching down from a driving maul after four minutes. Libbok’s missed conversion attempt limited the damage.
The Stormers doubled their lead after 14 minutes as in-form number eight Roos shared a neat exchange of passes with scrum-half Herschel Jantjies down the right wing before going over. Libbok was off target again from the tee and Ulster responded with a try of their own four minutes later, Baloucoune getting sent over in the corner for a score that was awarded despite enthusiastic claims of a forward pass from the locals.
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Cooney followed Libbok’s lead by failing to add the extras, but he was on target to send Ulster in front for the first time after Moore made the most of a well-executed Baloucoune offload to touch down. Libbok miscued a drop-goal attempt after the Stormers struggled to find a way through the Ulster defence, and Cooney stretched the advantage to five points with a penalty on the stroke of half-time.
The Stormers’ task got even tougher when Smith was shown a red card for contact with the eyes of Iain Henderson ten minutes from time, while the URC top try-scorer Leolin Zas had already been forced off through injury. However, they put Ulster under immense pressure as the clock ticked towards 80 minutes and eventually spread the ball wide to Gelant for a try that allowed Libbok to more than atone for his earlier misses.
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