DHL Stormers Will Face A Tough Challenge Against Exeter Chiefs


DHL Stormers will play the Exeter Chiefs in southwest England at 18:30 (SA Time) on Saturday in a quarter-final of the 2023 Heineken Champions Cup.

The DHL Stormers will face a tough challenge after finding out at the last minute that they had to travel to the UK after Exeter held Montpellier to a nail-biting 33-33 draw after a 100-minute marathon in their round of 16 clash last Sunday.

With home ground advantage and Exeter’s extra 34 points on attack in their five encounters expected to boost their confidence, they will be mindful of the fact that the DHL Stormers hold a marginally better defensive record, meaning it could prove to be a humdinger of a clash.

The Capetonians, in particular, would have taken valuable lessons from their round of 16 clash against Harlequins last week in which they leaked three tries in the eight minutes – which is a mistake they cannot afford again, especially with the competition reaching its peak.

Exeter Chiefs Head Coach Rob Baxter is aware of the threat the visitors will pose to his side and will underline that message further in the hours leading up to kick-off.

“They are a good side; they are very confident,” added Baxter. “They are playing well, buoyed by some success last year. In the Champions Cup now and going well. They are going to be a good side.

“I met John Dobson a few years ago, he came over here. He knew Don Armand from Western Province and he popped in for a day or so and I had a good chat with him. He seemed a pretty good guy. We talked a lot about what we were doing to try to build a team ethos and a team culture and it looks like he has spent a lot of time focusing on that with the Stormers."

Last weekend's victory also came in the wake of a hard-hitting debrief from Baxter, who was not afraid to show his anger in his side's disappointing defeat at Westcountry rivals Bath the previous week.

In his post-match assessment, the Chiefs Director of Rugby promised there would be changes and, true to his word, they occurred with a number of the club's highly-rated youngsters getting their chance to perform on the big stage.

Try-scorer Tom Wyatt, along with the likes of Will Becconsall and Tom Cairns, all featured, whilst there were also notable displays from Sean O'Brien in the midfield and an encouraging debut from new signing, Nika Abuladze.

This week, Baxter expressed how results and other off-field matters this season had created a somewhat negative vibe around all things Chiefs - and that results and reaction like that shown by everyone at the final whistle a week ago was how he wants the club to progress.

“We have got to enjoy the here and now," continued Baxter. "You have got to enjoy the journey… One of the best things about Sandy Park, when we were first in the Premiership, was the atmosphere in the stadium. It didn’t require us to win. It just required us to play well and do the best we could, and you get a fantastic atmosphere.

“It’s just trying to remind everybody about that. After that period of success, it feels like the world is collapsing when we lose, and things are just okay when we win. I actually thought at the weekend the vibe in the stadium changed that a little bit.

“We didn’t win on the scoreboard, it was a draw and try count put us through, but the atmosphere around the ground, the times when we needed the stadium to get going and particularly at the end, I thought was fantastic.

“The game did go on,” he reflected. “Every period had extra time, so it was a fair bit beyond 100 minutes. The key is we can talk about recovery and not trying to do too much, keep things short and sharp this week and that is fine – but the reality is we have got to emotionally recharge the batteries.

“It was a big emotional performance from us. The crowd was rocking. It was one of those games that can actually take a lot out of you, mainly because you feel pretty good about yourself. Things feel a bit better when you actually at some stage during the week have to put a cap on that and move forward to the next game and we had to pretty much do that on Wednesday.”

Not surprisingly, Baxter sticks with a virtually unchanged match-day 23 for the game. The sole change to the starting line-up sees winger Olly Woodburn - who was withdrawn late in the day last week - return at the expense of Rory O'Loughlin. The only other change comes on the bench where the experienced Stuart Hogg is fit again after an ankle injury and replaces Josh Hodge.

Tomorrow's match will also mark a 50th Champions Cup appearance for Chiefs and Scotland lock, Jonny Gray.

The DHL Stormers backline is unchanged from the combination that started the Round of 16 match against Harlequins last week, while there are just two changes to the forward pack.

Heineken Star of the Match in the 32-28 victory in Cape Town Deon Fourie has been ruled out with a Medial orbital wall (eyesocket) fracture, so his place at openside flank is taken by Junior Pokomela.

The only other change sees Marcel Theunissen start at the back of the scrum, with Hacjivah Dayimani set to make an impact from the replacements bench.

DHL Stormers Head Coach John Dobson said that his team will leave it all out on the field at Sandy Park in a bid to qualify for the Heineken Champions Cup semifinal.

“This is a huge knock-out match, so we have to give it a full tilt.

“Exeter have a great record at home, so we know it will take a full effort from all 23 to get the result we need on Saturday,” he said.

Dobson paid tribute to Nel, who is a pivotal player on both defence and attack for his team.


Exeter Chiefs: 15. Tom Wyatt, 14. Jack Nowell (c), 13. Henry Slade, 12. Sean O’Brien, 11. Olly Woodburn, 10. Joe Simmonds, 9. Will Becconsall, 8. Sam Simmonds, 7. Christ Tshiunza, 6. Jannes Kirsten, 5. Dafydd Jenkins, 4. Jonny Gray, 3. Marcus Street, 2. Dan Frost, 1. Scott Sio. Replacements: 16. Jack Yeandle, 17. Nika Abuladze, 18. Josh Iosefa-Scott, 19. Aidon Davis, 20. Dave Ewers, 21. Tom Cairns, 22. Harvey Skinner, 23. Stuart Hogg.

DHL Stormers: 15. Damian Willemse, 14. Suleiman Hartzenberg, 13. Ruhan Nel, 12. Dan du Plessis, 11. Seabelo Seabelo, 10. Manie Libbok, 9. Herschel Jantjies, 8. Marcel Theunissen, 7. Ben-Jason Dixon, 6. Junior Pokomela, 5. Marvin Orie, 4. Ernst van Rhyn, 3. Frans Malherbe, 2. Joseph Dweba, 1. Steven Kitshoff (c). Replacements: 16. JJ Kotze, 17. Ali Vermaak, 18. Neethling Fouche, 19. Gary Porter, 20. Willie Engelbrecht, 21. Hacjivah Dayimani, 22. Paul de Wet, 23. Clayton Blommetjies.