The fifth week of the Pro14 Rainbow Cup SA is the biggest in the context of the Bulls and the rest of the South African franchises, given the Stormers upcoming clash in Pretoria and the announcement last week that a North v South final has been guaranteed to take place in Treviso in Italy on 19th June, writes Oliver Keohane.
The confirmation that there will be a tournament final that won’t just see South African teams contesting, that it will have a crowd in attendance and that it will be hosted in another country, ups the stakes and the excitement for South African players and teams who have been starved of international travel and opposition for the past 18 months.
All credit to the organisers of the Rainbow Cup, in ensuring a final and also that there will be crowd attendance, with the expectation that there will be 1000 spectators allowed at the ground.
It has been a case of rinse and repeat as South African Rugby has consistently had to revert to the contingency plans of the same local tournament, given different names, as Covid regulations prevented participation in any international travel or crowd attendance. Benetton
Treviso’s Stadio Di Monigo will host the Rainbow Cup North v South Final on the 19th of June, with Benetton, who won four of their four local clashes, likely to be the Northern finalists. Benetton, who’s home is Treviso, sit atop the 12-team northern log on 19 points, three points clear of Munster in second.
How brilliant a treble would it be for the Bulls to round off a period that has seen them win the Currie Cup and Super Rugby Unlocked – in dire conditions – with an overseas victory in front of, finally, some fans. For the Bulls to possibly be denied a trip over to Treviso though, the Stormers would have to secure a bonus point win against them this weekend, which would open up the doors for potential Capetonian or Durban entry into the final.
After the Lions upset the Bulls in their recent encounter, winning 34-33 in their first win of the tournament, the Stormers moved to equal points with the Sharks, but with a better points differential, meaning that a bonus point win against the Bulls would open the tournament up again. However, if Jake’s men can come away winners at Loftus, they should be safely on their way to Italy.
Given the context, this weekend’s South African games hold the greatest stakes of the last year and a half period for the four local franchises.
Will the Bulls be able to do it?
I think so, but not easily. The Stormers last encounter with them was an expected battle of brutal and basic South African rugby which saw the Bulls emerge 20-16 victors in Cape Town. The game could have gone either way, and there is nothing to suggest that Saturday’s encounter in Cape Town will be very different . My feeling, as it was when they last met, is that the Bulls will still have the edge in terms of tactical nous and composure. Morne Steyn at ten will be huge, especially in the context of the Stormers lack of coherence or consistency in the flyhalf channel. Marcel Coetzee’s expected Bulls debut adds another dimension to their powerful pack, which could upset the Stormers as they won’t be used to playing him, and likely will not be getting much clean ball.
Regardless of the result, the race is on. And there is finally incentive; Italy in under a month’s time.