SA kings brace for Euro champs

The DHL Stormers’ first game of the season at Cape Town Stadium promises to be a cracker when they welcome Champions Cup title-holders La Rochelle to the Mother City on Saturday.

It’s the champions of South Africa taking on the champions of Europe in the first rugby XVs match on the refurbished pitch.

The Stormers are fired up to log their first Champions Cup victory of the season after giving an excellent account of their depth in the first round in Leicester.

Aiding the home side’s mission will be the return to action of several Springboks, including playmakers Manie Libbok and Damian Willemse and veteran loose forward Deon Fourie, all of whom remained in Cape Town to prepare for this blockbuster clash.

However, standing in the Stormers’ way will be the two-time champions La Rochelle, who are equally hungry for a victory after an opening-round defeat to Jacques Nienaber’s Leinster.

Coached by legendary former Ireland flyhalf Ronan O’Gara, the French club will bring their best and brightest to Cape Town, which includes at least one familiar face in former Stormers winger Dillyn Leyds.

The 31-year-old started his career in Cape Town, having represented Western Province from U18 level and playing Varsity Cup rugby for the UCT Ikey Tigers.

Leyds made his debut for the Stormers in 2015 and spent five seasons in Cape Town, scoring 105 points in 65 appearances and earning a Test debut in 2017.

Since moving to France, Leyds has helped La Rochelle progress to two Top 14 finals, in 2021 and 2023, as well as becoming a back-to-back Champions Cup winner in 2022 and 2023.

La Rochelle’s talent goes way beyond the former Stormers speedster, as their squad is reinforced by former All Blacks scrumhalf Tawera Kerr-Barlow, England wing Jack Nowell, flying Fijian Levani Botia and giant Australian lock Will Skelton.

In the race to qualify for the Champions Cup playoffs, every point is vital to a Stormers outfit that will host Premiership leaders Sale on 13 January before travelling to Paris to battle Stade Francais one week later.

La Rochelle are the cream of the crop of European rugby. With the backing of the Faithful, the Stormers will look to showcase why they are South Africa’s best having won back-to-back SA Shield titles in the Vodacom United Rugby Championship.

Saturday’s match will also kickstart a feast of festive rugby in Cape Town that continues with URC derbies against the Bulls (23 December) and Sharks (30 December).

Photo: Ryan Wilkisky/BackpagePix

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