Three SA teams set to tussle for top spots

Published Apr 15, 2024


Leighton Koopman

After a weekend of controversy surrounding their so-called second-string side’s thumping against Northampton Saints in the Champions Cup, the Bulls will quietly go about focusing on their main objective in the United Rugby Championship (URC).

Jake White’s troops received a 59-22 hiding in England, but on the URC front they are within toucshing distance of second place on the overall points table.

And for them to keep fighting for play-off matches at Loftus Versfeld up until the semi-finals at least, they will have to be at their best when they host defending champions Munster this weekend in Pretoria (kick-off 5.05 pm).

The Bulls’ top Springboks and other regular starters were left out of the Champions Cup beating to stay behind in South Africa and prepare for Munster’s arrival, and if they fail to trump the Irish club side on Saturday, questions will be asked.

But they could have the likes of fullback Willie le Roux, winger Kurt-Lee Arende, loose forwards Marcell Coetzee and Elrigh Louw, and scrumhalf Embrose Papier back for this clash.

Behind the Bulls on the points table, the Stormers are in a must-win scenario practically every weekend now to secure a possible home play-off game. They are currently fifth, but only need one weekend of results going in their favour to break into the top four.

They face the Ospreys in Cape Town on Saturday (kick-off 7.15pm), and after their loss against La Rochelle in the Champions Cup, they need to get back to winning ways as quickly as possible.

They have one competition to focus on now, and all their energy should go into reaching the top four for an easier route to a possible final. Apart from some injuries, the Stormers should have a settled squad for the next handful of matches, and they should not find it too difficult to build momentum again.

Every URC match that follows Saturday’s will be like a play-off to the inaugural URC champions, and they have no other obligations that could distract them.

Looking at how Leinster dismantled Leicester this past weekend, it would not surprise if the Irish powerhouse travels to South Africa with a second-string side for matches against the Lions and Stormers.

They head to Ellis Park on Saturday (kick-off 3pm) where the Lions are fighting for a spot among the top-eight URC sides for automatic qualification into the Champions Cup.

The Joburgers are the only South African side that has not yet had a taste of rugby at Europe’s top level, and they’ve sacrificed the Challenge Cup to stay focused on securing a top-eight place in the URC. They are currently in 11th place, but one point away from eighth position.

In the context of their season, this Leinster clash is probably one of their most important ones. A loss could see them drop further behind the front eight. And with Munster heading to Ellis Park next weekend, the matches don’t get any easier.

The Sharks only have pride to fight for in the final stages of the URC, but they can also be a king-maker for a few South African sides. They take on the Glasgow Warriors on Friday in Scotland (kick-off 8.35pm), and a win for the Durban side at Scotstoun Stadium would mean a lot for the Bulls and Stormers.

They also have to build on the winning momentum over the next two weeks if they want to be competitive and beat Clermont early in May in the semi-final of the Challenge Cup.