IOL Sport’s rugby gurus Leighton Koopman (Stormers), Ashfak Mohamed (Bulls), Mike Greenaway (Sharks) and Morgan Bolton (Lions) assess the four SA teams’ URC seasons ...
RECORD: Played 18 Won 12 Drew 2 Lost 4 Points For 531 Points Against 391 Points 68
THE SEASON: The Stormers can be proud of their second place, although it does feel like their campaign ended on a disappointing note by losing to the visiting Munster in the final in Cape Town.
But there is a reason the Irish club are the only team that the former champions have not beaten yet.
Despite this, Stormers coach Dobson managed to expand the playing capacity in his squad despite the pressure they were under.
He had to do it while a host of players were on a mandatory Springbok rest period, but also when they were in camp with the national team, and when stalwarts like Deon Fourie and Ruhan Nel had injuries.
Young players stepped up, so much so that Dobson and his assistants had it tough with selection towards and for the playoffs. They put their hand up, and the Stormers are going to be better for it ahead of next season’s campaign.
BEST PLAYER: Without a doubt, Manie Libbok was their general again. Apart from the two games against Munster, the Stormers flyhalf was on fire. Players are entitled to off games, though. Captain Steven Kitshoff led the team with distinction, while the evergreen Fourie deserves all the accolades too.
BEST MOMENT: The flair game, without being reckless, that the team perfected, with even the forwards joining in on the movement to score outrageous tries. Think of lock Ruben van Heerden’s spectacular offload to Frans Malherbe in the earlier loss against Munster.
WORST MOMENT: The final. It started all so good with an early pressure intercept try, but from there, they lost the first-half physical contest, and Munster knew how to scrape to keep the Stormers out.
RECORD: P18 W10 D1 L7 PF 613 PA 448 Pts 53
POSITION: Sixth (lost quarter-final 33-21 to Stormers)
THE SEASON: Losing coach Jake White for about two months in the middle of the season due to illness – and captain Marcell Coetzee for a sixmonth sabbatical in Japan – deflated the Bulls’ campaign.
They had to play six games out of seven away from home across the URC and Champions Cup in December and January, and only won one.
Upon White’s return, they went down once again to the Stormers, and followed that with a defeat to the Lions in Pretoria as well.
From that point, it was about just qualifying for the URC quarter-finals, and at least the Bulls managed that – helped by big victories over Zebre and a weakened Leinster.
They had to take on their old nemesis the Stormers in the quarter-finals, though, and duly lost 33-21.
White has vowed to turn things around, and is on the hunt for some big-name signings as he cannot just rely on Kurt-Lee Arendse and Canan Moodie to win games all the time.
BEST PLAYER: Kurt-Lee Arendse The Bulls missed their Bok star at times due to national duty, but whenever he was on the pitch, Arendse made things happen on attack with his electric pace, while he was fearless on defence and dealing with the high ball at fullback.
BEST MOMENT: Beating Dragons 29-14
The Bulls had lost to the Stormers and Sharks away from home, and then had to travel to Wales around the New Year period in the middle of the northern hemisphere winter.
To make matters worse, White started becoming ill in Newport, and wasn’t able to take charge of the team.
But tries by Arendse, Harold Vorster and Bismarck du Plessis set up a memorable win at Rodney Parade on 6 January.
WORST MOMENT: Losing 29-25 to the Lions
This was the fifth defeat in six matches for the Bulls, and it came at Loftus on top of it.
Scrumhalf Sanele Nohamba landed five penalties for the Johannesburg side, and not even a four-try bonus point – following touchdowns by Wandisile Simelane (2), Sbu Nkosi and Johan Grobbelaar – was enough to avoid going down to their Gauteng rivals.
RECORD: P18 W9 D1 L8 PF 486 PA 480 Pts 48
POSITION: Eighth (lost quarter-final 35-5 to Leinster)
THE SEASON: Given the Sharks’ considerable resources, to finish third on the SA Shield, just three points above the relatively poverty-stricken Lions, borders on embarrassing.
And to finish exactly mid-table (eighth out of 16) means the Sharks were average at best, and average doesn’t cut it when the team is backed by the US dollar.
A big issue for the Sharks in the URC is that they contested it with their eye on the Champions Cup. Not only did the latter not work out, but it also came back to bite them when they rested key players for URC games so that they would be fresh for the premier competition.
It certainly did not help the Sharks when their host of Bok players were removed from the URC for over a month, and they will be wondering if they have their recruitment focus correct. What is the point of having star Boks when they seldom play for you?
BEST PLAYER: Grant Williams scored sensational tries almost at will. He has almost certainly played his way into the World Cup squad as a “bomb squad” game-breaker.
BEST MOMENT: When Sharks beat Edinburgh away without a number of Boks. Owner Marco Masotti described it as one of the best-ever Sharks wins.
WORST MOMENT: The Sharks were cruising to victory over Munster in their last match, only to implode to allow the eventual champions to salvage a 22-22 draw.
RECORD: P18 W9 D0 L9 PF 454 PA 538 Pts 45
THE SEASON: The Lions conspired against themselves, and it resulted in the outcome as their first URC attempt – outside the top eight.
Despite losing their opening game to the Bulls, the Joburgers managed to bounce back with three gritty away wins in Europe. There was a sense of hope that they could be dark horses, but then December arrived – and with it, that belief.
Although there were some sublime moments on the field, it was the offfield scandals and controversies that grabbed the headlines.
It further dented the morale and confidence of the team, who now had to contend with their privileged opinions being revealed to the public.
Ivan van Rooyen’s job as coach came under severe scrutiny, and many will argue that it remains unsecure. It will be the union’s biggest decision to keep him on or part ways with him ahead of the 2023-24 campaign.
BEST PLAYER: There were a handful of players who really made a mark – Asenathi Ntlabakanye, Francke Horn, Sanele Nohamba, Marius Louw, Edwill van der Merwe – but we can all agree Emmanuel Tshituka was their superstar.
BEST MOMENT: Their early-season form, when they won three matches in Europe on the trot against Ospreys, Cardiff and Edinburgh.
WORST MOMENT: December to mid-February was disastrous for the team – they lost six games out of seven games during that period.