URC SCENE SETTER: Time for Stormers to cheer on the Bulls

rugby17 April 2024 10:07
By:Gavin Rich
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Jake White © Getty Images

It is that time of the Vodacom United Rugby Championship season where necessity creates some odd alliances and there may well be one that develops over the next few weeks between two of the South African teams that consider themselves arch-rivals.

As far-fetched as it may seem, there is good reason for DHL Stormers fans, and the Stormers players and coaches for that matter, to get passionately behind the Vodacom Bulls when they clash with Munster in Pretoria on Saturday.

If you look at the log after 13 rounds it is easy to understand why that should be the case - the Stormers are desperate to host a quarterfinal, as they have en route to an appearance in the final in both of the URC seasons played so far, and that means they need to end in the top four. The immediate obstacle to that objective just happens to be the Munster team that took the champions tag off the inaugural winners in last year’s closely fought final.

Munster are four points ahead of the Stormers with five matches to play. Provided the Stormers do what they need to do by beating the Ospreys at the DHL Stadium, preferably getting a try scoring bonus point in the process, a Bulls win over Munster in an earlier game on Saturday will make it possible for the Stormers to leapfrog the Irish team into fourth.


It doesn’t end there though. The Bulls will of course have their own reasons for needing to beat Glasgow Warriors when the two teams clash at Loftus on 11 May. The Bulls will be aiming to finish second on the log to ensure that they play up to at least a semifinal on their home field, and it is currently Glasgow who hold down second, four points ahead of the third placed Bulls and currently six ahead of Munster.

The Bulls might have been hoping that maybe their countrymen, the Hollywoodbets Sharks, would help them out by knocking Glasgow over in Glasgow on Friday night. But while that might have been a distinct possibility with the rapidly gaining form full strength Sharks team, it appears that the need to be fresh for their EPCR Challenge Cup semifinal on 4 May may override other considerations for the Durbanites.

If the Sharks did win though, which would be the third time they’ve helped their coastal rivals as their wins over two contending teams, Ulster and Edinburgh, pushed them down the log, and the Bulls do the same when they host Glasgow a couple of weeks hence, that would make Franco Smith’s team vulnerable to the intentions of the Stormers. Given how difficult it is to come to South Africa, there is still a prospect of South African teams finishing second and third on the final log.

Of course if the Bulls get beaten by both Munster and Glasgow in the next few weeks there is a chance the Stormers could overtake them, but right now, with the Bulls playing most of their remaining matches at home, the Bulls dealing with those two teams looks the most likely route to a possible top four spot for John Dobson’s men.

Ulster were in strong contention for a top four spot a short while ago and still are if you note they are just four points adrift of the Stormers. But they will be under pressure to put what has been a testing few weeks for their new coach behind them when they host Cardiff on Friday night. They’ve lost to the Sharks and the Stormers in their last two URC games and followed that up by being outplayed by Clermont-Auvergne in their Challenge Cup quarterfinal last weekend.


The Emirates Lions could of course also help out the Stormers, as they host Munster the week after the URC champions are up the road at Loftus, and also get to host Glasgow in mid-May. Two other games where the Stormers, and for that matter the Lions given their outside chance of a top eight finish, should be cheering on a fellow SA team is the Sharks hosting Benetton on 11 May and then the Bulls against Benetton a week later.

Benetton have lost their way a bit after being in the top four for most of the early part of the season but they did recover a bit in their last game before the break for the Champions Cup and Challenge Cup fixtures and are now sixth, just two points behind the Stormers. With their Italy international players no doubt thriving on the confidence they picked up in an impressive Six Nations showing, Benetton will be dangerous, and were in good form in beating Connacht in their Challenge Cup quarterfinal.


Talking of Connacht, the Galway based team has dropped to 10th on the URC log but is still in contention for a playoff place. A top four place might be beyond them so there’s good reason for the Stormers to be rooting for a Connacht win when they go to Munster on 11 May. Connacht are always tricky for their fellow Irish provinces no matter where the game is played.

One of Edinburgh or Munster will then cancel the other out a week after that, the same weekend that Ulster host mighty Leinster. With derby games across the board in the final round to be played 31 May and 1 June, there will be plenty of jeopardy across the board, but it needs to be noted from a South African viewpoint that Munster and Ulster play each other on that final day.

The Bulls have a potentially tricky journey to Durban to negotiate in that final round while the Stormers will be hosting the team that last beat them in Cape in a derby match way back in 2021, the Emirates Lions.

When that day arrives there is unlikely to be much love between the South African teams but in the meantime there is good reason for them to get behind each other and several opportunities to help each other out.

Weekend Vodacom United Rugby fixtures

Ulster v Cardiff Rugby (Belfast, Friday 8:35pm)

Glasgow Warriors v Hollywoodbets Sharks (Glasgow, Friday 8:35pm)

Benetton v Dragons (Treviso, Saturday 3pm)

Emirates Lions v Leinster (Johannesburg, Saturday 3pm)

Vodacom Bulls v Munster (Pretoria, Saturday 5:05pm)

DHL Stormers v Ospreys (Cape Town, Saturday 7:15pm)

Edinburgh v Scarlets (Edinburgh, Saturday 8:35pm)

Connacht v Zebre (Galway, Saturday 8:35pm)