Aki sees red as Stormers see off Connacht
MATCH REPORT: The Stormers started their United Rugby Championship title defence with a 38-15 bonus-point win over Connacht in Stellenbosch on Saturday.
The home side outscored their opponents by four tries to two with flyhalf Manie Libbok contributing 18 points with the boot.
The visitors also had to play the last 20 minutes of the match with 14 men after Ireland international Bundee Aki was sent off for a dangerous cleanout.
Evan Roos touched down early for the hosts and, though they could not add another try before the break, they took a 13-8 lead into half-time thanks to the kicking of Manie Libbok, with Dylan Tierney-Martin going over for the visitors.
After another couple of penalties, quickfire tries from Andre-Hugo Venter and Hacjivah Dayimani in the final quarter put the result beyond doubt, with Jack Aungier crossing for a late consolation.
Marcel Theunissen wrapped up the bonus point after the hooter.
Roos dominated the end-of-season awards last term and took only three minutes to make an impact this time around.
The No.8 exploited a gap in the Connacht defence and made light work of Mack Hansen’s attempted tackle as his rampaging run sent him over in the corner.
Libbok slotted the conversion and added a penalty after Conor Fitzgerald had got Connacht off the mark from the tee.
The Stormers No.10 was off-target with a relatively straightforward penalty after 22 minutes but normal service was resumed when he made it 13-3 five minutes later.
Marvin Orie was then sin-binned for an accumulation of Stormers offences and Connacht quickly made their hosts pay.
Following a period of sustained pressure on the Stormers’ five-metre line, Connacht eventually drove Tierney-Martin over, although Fitzgerald was wayward with the conversion.
Libbok scored two more penalties either side of Connacht losing Caolin Blade to a serious-looking lower-leg injury early in the second half.
The visitors thought they had closed the gap when Tom Farrell went over after collecting a David Hawkshaw cross-kick but the try was chalked off for Aki’s dangerous clearout on Seabelo Senatla in the build-up – an offence that earned Aki the red card.
That dismissal swung momentum decisively in the Stormers’ favour and Venter touched down at the end of a mesmerising passage of play to make it 26-8 with the help of Libbok’s conversion.
Dayimani quickly added another and although Aungier’s try – converted by Hawkshaw – gave Connacht fans something to smile about, it was Theunissen who had the final say at the death, with Libbok adding the extras.
Player of the match
Stormers No.8 Evan Roos was outstanding again and he scored a barnstorming try in the first half.
Play of the match
The Stormers’ second try, which was scored by Andre-Hugo Venter, was a thing of beauty. There was some slick passing with the ball changing hands on a number of occasions before it found its way to Venter.
Tries: Roos, Venter, Dayimani, Theunissen
Cons: Libbok 3
Pens: Libbok 4
Tries: Tierney-Martin, Aungier
Red card: Bundee Aki (Connacht, 61′ – foul play, dangerous cleanout)
Yellow card: Marvin Orie (Stormers, 37′ – cynical play, playing the ball in a ruck)
Stormers: 15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 Angelo Davids, 13 Suleiman Hartzenberg, 12 Dan du Plessis, 11 Seabelo Senatla, 10 Manie Libbok, 9 Paul de Wet, 8 Evan Roos, 7 Hacjivah Dayimani, 6 Junior Pokomela, 5 Marvin Orie, 4 Ernst van Rhyn (captain), 3 Brok Harris, 2 Andre-Hugo Venter, 1 Ali Vermaak.
Replacements: 16 Chad Solomon, 17 Kwenzo Blose, 18 Neethling Fouche, 19 Adré Smith, 20 Marcel Theunissen, 21 Willie Engelbrecht, 22 Godlen Masimla, 23 Sacha Mngomezulu.
Connacht: 15 Oran McNulty, 14 John Porch, 13 Byron Ralston, 12 Tom Farrell, 11 Mack Hansen, 10 Conor Fitzgerald, 9 Caolin Blade, 8 Paul Boyle, 7 Jarrad Butler, 6 Cian Prendergast, 5 Niall Murray, 4 Josh Murphy, 3 Finlay Bealham, 2 Dylan Tierney-Martin, 1 Denis Buckley.
Replacements: 16 Dave Heffernan, 17 Peter Dooley, 18 Jack Aungier, 19 Oisín Dowling, 20 Shamus Hurley-Langton, 21 Kieran Marmion, 22 Bundee Aki, 23 David Hawkshaw.
Referee : Gianluca Gnecchi (Italy)
Assistant referees: Morné Ferreira (South Africa), Stephan Guldenhuys (South Africa)
TMO: Matteo Liperini (Italy)