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No margin for error in Stormers-Bulls URC final battle for the ages

Published Jun 18, 2022

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Cape Town - Can the Stormers out-wrestle the Bulls thrice in one season to lift the United Rugby Championship trophy?

The age-old rivals will meet at Cape Town Stadium to battle it out in the inaugural URC Grand Final after the Stormers got the better of Ulster in the semi-finals in Cape Town last week, while the Bulls pulled off a rugby miracle to beat an international-laden Leinster side in Dublin.

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The Stormers have won their last 10 games since losing 19-17 to Connacht in Galway in February, while they have lost just once at home, a 37-19 defeat to the Lions in Cape Town in December last year.

The Bulls boast just as impressive a run, having lost once in their last 11 games.

While those stats sure are noteworthy, it’s the numbers on the day that will matter most.

A big talking point has been the conditions.

With a 60% chance of rain predicted, one would think that the Bulls have the upper hand in that regard. After all, it’s the more conservative, percentage-based teams that tend to flourish in those conditions.

But the Bulls are not the same ‘traditional-strengths’ side of old. Their set piece is still a major feature of their game, however, and that’s going to be a massive battle against John Dobson’s side.

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The Stormers’ Springbok-heavy front row should be expected to edge the Bulls in the shoving battle. A big challenge could be the pitch itself, which tends to lift in the wet during scrummaging. While it wasn’t wet last weekend, the same happened during the first scrum against Ulster.

One area of concern for the Cape side is their line-out, where they have been up and down.

On the other hand, Jake White’s Bulls are one of the top sides in the competition in the ‘line-out success’ category, while they have won the second-most line-outs this season.

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There is no single battle that’s not going to be important but, given the conditions and the error rate that comes with it, the kickers will have to be on point.

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Stormers 10 Manie Libbok will want to have a different start than last week, especially considering that he’s going up against Chris Smith, who makes few mistakes off the tee, and overall.

As much as the weather has dominated the pre-game talks, it might come down to a pounce by one of either team’s dangerous backs to swing the game.

One loose ball could see the likes of Seabelo Senatla, Libbok, Warrick Gelant, Kurt-Lee Arendse or Madosh Tambwe pin their ears back and head for the whitewash.

So, while the set-piece battle will be huge, let’s not forget how much one moment can impact a game (just ask the teams who have been hurt by the Stormers’ counter-attack).

STORMERS TEAM

15 Warrick Gelant 14 Sergeal Petersen, 13 Ruhan Nel 12 Damian Willemse 11 Seabelo Senatla 10 Manie Libbok 9 Herschel Jantjies 8 Evan Roos 7 Hacjivah Dayimani 6 Deon Fourie 5 Marvin Orie 4 Salmaan Moerat 3 Frans Malherbe 2 JJ Kotze 1 Steven Kitshoff (captain).

Bench: 16 Andre-Hugo Venter 17 Brok Harris 18 Neethling Fouche 19 Ernst van Rhyn 20 Junior Pokomela 21 Nama Xaba 22 Godlen Masimla 23 Sacha Mngomezulu.

@WynonaLouw

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