SA Shield could be decided in Loftus derby

rugby22 February 2024 07:06| © SuperSport
By:Gavin Rich
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© Gallo Images

The DHL Stormers have a very big carrot to aim at when they clash with the Vodacom Bulls at Loftus in their big Vodacom United Rugby Championship derby 10 days from now - a victory will clinch them their third successive Shield title.

With just two points separating the log leaders, the Stormers, and the second placed Bulls, it is impossible to underplay the significance to the destination of the South African Shield trophy of the 2 March north/south showdown at Loftus. With just one game to play after that, the two point advantage the Stormers currently enjoy should make it just a bridge too far for the Bulls when they travel to Durban for their last game of the league phase at the beginning of June.

Conversely, defeat for the Stormers will see the Bulls go ahead of them for the first time this season and then everything will come down to the final round, with both teams playing derby games that count for the Shield title. While the Bulls go to Hollywoodbets Kings Park to face the Hollywoodbets Sharks, the Stormers will be hosing the Emirates Lions on the same afternoon.

There might be some who will be surprised to learn that the Stormers are ahead in the Shield when they trail the Bulls by five points on the overall log after both have played 10 games. Last season and the season before that it would have meant the Bulls would be in front.

Back then though there’d also be eight games remaining that count for the Shield. Now there is only one more game to be played with the Shield at stake after the next round of games which sees the north/south derby coincide with the return derby between the Lions and Sharks in Johannesburg.


The URC organisers decided this year to up the ante in the derbies by making it more of a stand alone competition with only the games played between participating teams in the Shield counting. So the Stormers, who’ve played four derbies so far this season and have won all of them, are out in front with 17 points. The Bulls have lost once, to the Stormers in Cape Town before Christmas, but are within touching distance of the Stormers by virtue of their having picked up three bonus points to the Stormers’ one, one of those points being the one they gained by sneaking a late score in the DHL Stadium derby so they lost by less than seven. That could come back to hurt the Stormers’ chances of retaining the Shield if the Loftus game doesn’t go their way.

The Bulls are hoping to draw a full house to the game, meaning there could be 51 000 people present, when two quality teams clash on Saturday week, with the Bulls desperate to break a seven game losing sequence against their arch-rivals from Cape Town. The Bulls were a distant second to the Stormers on both log tables and in the games they played against each other last season but this term they have improved considerably and weren’t far off the Stormers in the DHL Stadium clash.

The Stormers did deserve their win there though, so the question revolves around what home ground advantage could do to the Bulls’ challenge. The Stormers have arguably systematically improved during the course of their campaign, which at one stage was floundering when they returned from tour having lost four games consecutively. Since then they’ve won four successive URC games, three of them tough derbies, and are on a six game winning streak if you factor in their Investec Champions Cup form, which included an epic win over the European champions, La Rochelle.

The Stormers beat the Sharks in Durban last weekend without their Springboks but Deon Fourie, Damian Willemse, Manie Libbok and probably Frans Malherbe too are all expected to play at Loftus. They do have a crucial injury concern at loosehead prop though, where Ali Vermaak is understood to be facing a lengthy stint off the field after sustaining ligament damage against the Sharks.

As was the case last season, the Shield battle is a two horse race, with neither of the Lions, who have seven points, and the Sharks who have three, featuring in the contest for the trophy that Steven Kitshoff has held aloft over the past two seasons.

Vodacom URC SA Shield log

1.DHL Stormers Played 4 Won 4 Lost 0 Drawn 0 Pts 17

2. Vodacom Bulls Played 4 Won 3 Lost 1 Drawn 0 Pts 15

3. Emirates Lions Played 4 Won 1 Lost 3 Drawn 0 Pts 7

4. Hollywoodbets Sharks Played 4 Won 0 Lost 4 Drawn 0 Pts 3