SA teams await their fate in round of sudden death in Champions Cup

Stormers player Damian Willemse applauds the crowd after a match

File. An anxious wait lies ahead for both the Bulls and the Stormers should they win their respective Champions Cup clashes this weekend. Seen here: Stormers player Damian Willemse applauds the crowd after a match. Picture: Phando Jikelo/Independent Media

Published Apr 3, 2024


The tough task of beating their respective opponents in the two local Champions Cup matches is not the complete part of what will make this an interesting, and perhaps also anxious weekend for Bulls coach Jake White and his Stormers counterpart John Dobson.

With the Bulls unlucky not to win against Lyon away in their pool clash in December, they should start as clear favourites to beat the French team at Loftus Versfeld and advance to the quarter-finals for the first time. However, there is plenty of jeopardy for the Stormers as they face the reigning two-time champions, La Rochelle at the DHL Stadium.

It is what comes next for both teams that is intriguing and could spark some anxiety. If the Bulls win, they will be playing the winner of the game between Northampton Saints and Munster at Franklin Gardens. But that game is only set to be played on Sunday, which means that if the Bulls do win, they have to wait until then to find out if they will be travelling for their quarterfinal.

If Northampton win, then the Bulls will be heading to England and will be heading to the airport. If Munster win, then the Bulls will be spending the week at their homes as they will be hosting the United Rugby Championship (URC) title holders at Loftus. And with Munster due to play a URC game in Pretoria the following week, that will mean the two sides clash in the same place twice in the space of a week.

Same but different

It’s almost the same, but not quite for the Stormers. If they upset La Rochelle, there is a strong likelihood they will be heading to Dublin to play Leinster in the quarterfinal round. Leicester Tigers, who are in Dublin to play Leinster in the late game on Sunday night, will come to Cape Town if they win.

The Stormers are set to play Leinster in Cape Town two weeks after the quarter-finals, so if they do get to clash at the RDS Arena it will be the first of two games between the two teams, but in opposite hemispheres, in the space of a fortnight.

Played as the later of the two South African games, the Cape Town round of 16 clash between the Stormers and La Rochelle would challenge for being the plum game of the weekend, particularly if what happened at the same venue in mid-December can be re-enacted.  The Stormers produced a Houdini act in getting up to win with a last gasp conversion from the touchline from clutch kick specialist Manie Libbok.

There’s also much focus in South Africa on the EPCR Challenge Cup games, with all three local teams that started the secondary competition getting to play in this year’s round of 16. The Sharks are sweating over the fitness of Eben Etzebeth but they shouldn’t need him to beat Zebre in their game on Sunday afternoon. There is far more jeopardy for the Lions, who are in Treviso to play Benetton, while the Cheetahs are going to be hard pressed to keep their campaign alive as they go to Clermont, a notoriously difficult venue for visiting teams.