• Bulls lead the charge, but Stormers will strike back

    Bulls lead the charge, but Stormers will strike back

    Jake White’s Bulls are properly positioned to finish top two in the United Rugby Championship , but don’t dismiss the Stormers top four prospects. They are too good a side not to go on a home surge in the back end of the league season, writes Mark Keohane.

    The Bulls, with their most important league win of the season, ensured that they remained in the top two and, putting on a national cap, an argument could be made that while the result was a setback for the Stormers, it gives more certainty to at least one South African team hosting a semi-final and, possibly, a final if Leinster should stumble in the quarter finals or semi-finals.

    John Dobson’s Stormers had beaten the Bulls seven times in succession in the URC, with five of those matches played in Cape Town at the DHL Stadium, three in the league, one in the league’s first season’s final and one in last season’s quarter-final. They had also done brilliantly in winning twice at Loftus.

    The seven successive wins will not be repeated, not against a team of the Bulls quality, and it is a reminder of just how hot the Stormers have been running in the rivalry with the Bulls.

    The Bulls, indifferent last season, have been very good this season. They have been the most consistent of South Africa’s URC quartet and they got the dream start in Pretoria, in being seven points up before 60 seconds had passed.

    White will be encouraged that his players were mentally strong enough to deal with a strong Stormers fightback in the back end of the first half. They also kept the Stormers out in the opening 10 minutes of second half and turned opportunities into points.

    Their reward was five league points, but for the first time in this league fixture between the two South African giants, there was no reward for Dobson, which would have irked the Stormers coach.

    He would have felt the effort of his players deserved something and with better decision-making the Stormers may well have scored in the closing minutes to come within seven and get a fourth try. It did not happen and decision making is the one area Dobson will labour with his players in the build-up to Edinburgh’s visit to Cape Town in the last week of March.

    Dobson will also take comfort that five of the Stormers last seven matches are in Cape Town, four in succession and then a final match against the Lions. In between the Stormers play the Dragons in Wales and Ireland’s Connacht.

    Historical form backs the Stormers to win all five at home, but to stumble on the road, given their struggles in winning up north in the league.

    It isn’t quite that simple because Leinster are one of the teams to be played in Cape Town and they could send their strongest squad to South Africa to ensure their position at the top of the table.

    The permutations could all change based on how the Stormers, Bulls and Leinster, as just one oversees example, go in the Champions Cup play-offs.

    The Stormers in the URC: Edinburgh, Ulster, Ospreys and Leinster at home, then the Dragons and Connacht away, before finishing up against the Lions at home.

    The Bulls in the URC: Dragons and Leinster away, then Munster, Ospreys, Glasgow and Benetton at Loftus, and lastly traveling to Durban to play the Sharks.

    Given the consistency of the Bulls performances this season, I’d back them to win six of the seven and, given the fight in the Stormers, I think they are good enough to win five of the seven and make the top four.

    In the 2021/22 and 2022/23 seasons, 58 and 63 points were needed to reach the last 4, while the Stormers finished second in 2021/22 with 61 points, and Ulster needed 68 points to finish in the top two in 2022/23




    Article written by

    Keo has written about South African and international rugby professionally for the last 25 years