Leicester’s victory over Stormers in the Champions Cup was fueled by the outstanding performance of Handré Pollard.
The rugby world can seem unfair when a top South African team is forced to travel to Europe in December with a weakened squad to face an English club strengthened by two Springbok World Cup champions. It was highly likely that Handré Pollard would lead his team to a defeat, and he indeed scored 20 points as the high-profile fly-half to secure a bonus-point win for the home team.
The final blow was postponed for a short time, as Leicester initially struggled and risked embarrassment. However, Pollard’s impressive performance and two tries from Solomone Kata helped turn the tide in favor of the Tigers. It wasn’t until Pollard successfully converted his own try in the 74th minute, giving his team a 30-23 lead, that things seemed to return to normal. In the final minute, winger Josh Bassett scored the fourth and crucial try to seal the victory.
The determined Stormers can find solace in their strong performance despite facing challenges. The game was expected to be an easy win at home, with head coach John Dobson feeling guilty for selecting a team with many players unavailable for the first game of a highly-regarded tournament. Key players such as Manie Libbok, Damian Willemse, Joseph Dweba, Evan Roos, and Warrick Gelant were all absent, as the Stormers were set to play against La Rochelle in Cape Town this weekend.
Unfortunately, it is not a good representation of the tournament when South African teams are unable to send their top players for important matches. After the game, Dobson expressed his disappointment, stating that the current situation needs to be addressed as it is crucial for South Africa to have their best teams competing. Despite the outcome, Pollard agrees that if these teams are going to be a part of the competition, efforts should be made to accommodate them better.
In a closely contested competition, the Stormers are facing a difficult challenge in their pool with little room for mistakes. Meanwhile, Leicester also needs to improve their performance after a lackluster first half that led to a stern talk from their head coach, Dan McKellar, during halftime. Even England’s Freddie Steward struggled at times with catching high balls and Hanro Liebenberg missed an opportunity to score a try, keeping the Stormers in the game.
The visitors were expected to score their first try, as Keke Morabe’s strength allowed him to break through Pollard from a short distance. They were also given another opportunity just before half-time when Ben Youngs struggled at the base of a scrum. The ball was kicked 25 meters towards the home team’s line and the quick-witted visiting scrum-half Paul de Wet passed it off the ground for Courtnall Skosan, formerly of Northampton, to score.
Leicester found more success with a simpler game plan, particularly when the Stormers made an error in their exit strategy, resulting in a five-meter scrum. Jasper Wiese then passed to Kata who scored the first try of the game after only 13 minutes. Pollard, who is quickly becoming a fan favorite, was still on the team. As time goes by, it becomes less important where someone comes from, as seen in the joke on the most recent episode of I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue, which was recorded in Leicester. The joke referenced the city’s National Space Centre being twinned with the National Pork Pie Museum in Cape Canaveral.
At 29 years old, Pollard may still be figuring out the difference between cobs and bread rolls. However, his contributions to the Tigers’ three recent Premiership victories have been crucial. He proved this once again by converting Kata’s second try six minutes into the second half. The team effort, which included impressive offloads, was executed perfectly. Later on, Pollard scored a try of his own in the left corner while the hosts were down a player due to a yellow card for Lee-Marvin Mazibuko.
Earlier in the game, the Stormers’ slender fly-half, Jurie Matthee, successfully kicked a drop-goal and a long penalty, bringing the score level in the second half. Despite their struggles away from home during this year’s United Rugby Championship, the team showed great energy and skill on both offense and defense. Although Bassett’s last-minute try prevented them from earning a bonus point in defeat, coach Dobson was appreciative of his players’ determination and hard work before they headed to the airport.
The speaker expressed appreciation for the fact that they had put up a fight. They were relieved that they did not suffer a humiliating defeat of 44-3, as it could have reflected poorly on South Africans. While they hope they performed well, they do not want to be in the same situation again.