Cape Town - Regardless of what happens this weekend, the Stormers have every reason to feel like champions, even if they don’t lift the United Rugby Championship trophy.
The Cape side will face the Bulls at Cape Town Stadium in the final of the inaugural United Rugby Championship on Saturday, and there are few - other than Bulls supporters, I suppose - who would dispute the fact that the Stormers deserve to walk away victorious.
From a wider perspective, Leinster’s devastating form throughout the season was enough to have everybody feeling they have automatic claims to the United Rugby Championship title.
They welded themselves onto the No 1 spot on the log, and they have been the European powerhouse for the last few years, winning four straight PRO14 (now the United Rugby Championship) titles since 2017.
As Stormers coach John Dobson said following their win 20-13 win over the Irish giants earlier this season, a win he described as ‘anticlimactic’: “A coach, I think it was Tony Booth (of Ospreys), told me earlier in the season that the best team in the competition is Leinster, and the second-best team is Leinster B, and I don’t think he was joking.”
That’s not a stretch, they were strong. So strong that a quality team like the Bulls’ trip to Dublin and their role in the first semi-final was in many ways seen as a mere formality, a matter of by howmuch Leinster would beat them, not if they would beat them.
Well, if ever there was a reason to be happy to be wrong, that was the one. That result set up something that was unimaginable at the start of the season - a United Rugby Championship final in South Africa.
We all know how the SA teams went in the early stages of the competition, so there isn’t much need to dig up those unpleasant memories, but given the sour taste of those first few rounds, this weekend just becomes so much sweeter.
It’s impossible not to hype up this weekend’s United Rugby Championship final, especially from a Stormers perspective.
Credit to the Bulls for allowing us the opportunity to see such a rarely displayed side of Leinster, and credit to them for getting the job done against all odds.
When it comes to the rolling-inthe-dough Sharks, who have been on a lush shopping spree over the last two years, on the other hand, they should have done more.
Then, there’s the Stormers. There have been boardroom circus acts, financial tribulations and overall uncertainty. The Stormers, somehow, have been able to put all of that aside and focus on the task at hand. And now, with 10 wins on the bounce, they need to put together just one more performance.
They have been SA’s best team this season, and their hardships make them even more worthy of lifting the Cup.
While they can feel like champions regardless of how Saturday goes, I can’t help but feel it would only be right if they became the team to own the official tag as well.