• Stormers soar as South Africa’s top team

    Stormers soar as South Africa's top team
    Ryan Wilkisky/BackpagePix

    John Dobson’s DHL Stormers are South Africa’s top Vodacom United Rugby Championship team. They will also offer the strongest South African challenge in the playoffs, especially if overseas travel is involved, writes Mark Keohane.

    Steven Kitshoff is a superb leader and fellow Bok prop Frans Malherbe has been equally inspirational with the consistency of his performance. These two fine front row specialists have been at the heart of the Stormers march towards the play-offs.

    The Stormers, on the eve of the tournament’s final round, need a bonus point win against the Scarlets to secure a home quarter-final and they also need for the Cell C Sharks to not get a bonus point win against Ulster in Belfast.

    The Vodacom Bulls, who with some mathematical magic could finish second, are more likely to finish outside of the top four, regardless of their result against the Ospreys.

    I’ve loved the back end of the inaugural URC because we’ve seen the improvement among South African teams as the players have settled and started to become familiar with match official interpretation and also with the various styles of the opposition from up north.

    Leinster are a class act and comfortably a cut above the rest. Their have wonderful depth and it would take some good fortune and some fantastic display for any team to knock them over in the play-offs.

    But that’s the beauty of sport, even the best can get beaten.

    So there will always be hope – and for me the Stormers are that shining light among the South African teams.

    I have thoroughly enjoyed their style of play and find them the most balanced of the South African teams. The Bulls, at home, are always strong but they do struggle to translate this mentality when on the road. The Sharks, boosted by several World Cup-winning players in the second half of the competition, have been a mixed bag.

    The Sharks have won eight of their past nine matches but I never look at the Sharks and think they could win the competition. I look at the Stormers and think they could.

    SA Rugby Magazine editor Zelim Nel and I previewed the SA teams’s matches this weekend, discussed the play-off permutations and also the strengths of each of the play-off participants.


    Mark Keohane and Zelim Nel on the Vodacom URC Round 18 



    • Five games will have direct consequences on the locations of home Quarter-finals
    • Any team from 2nd to 6th can earn a home Quarter-final
    • The Cell C Sharks, DHL Stormers and Vodacom Bulls can all still win the SA Shield
    • Ospreys and Scarlets both in contention to win the Welsh Shield
    • Edinburgh and Glasgow Warriors will compete for the Italian x Scottish Shield and the 1872 Cup
    • All four Shield winners are guaranteed a place in next season’s Heineken Champions Cup
    • The Welsh Shield winner will finish in 9th position meaning that only seven of the top eight will qualify for the Heineken Champions Cup

    Vodacom United Rugby Championship Play-Off Paths

    Quarter-final 1 (QF1) – the Club ranked first in the Standing League Table will play at home against the Club ranked eighth in the Standing League Table.

    Quarter-final 2 (QF2) – the Club ranked second in the Standing League Table will play at home against the Club ranked seventh in the Standing League Table.

    Quarter-final 3 (QF3) – the Club ranked third in the Standing League Table will play at home against the Club ranked sixth in the Standing League Table.

    Quarter-final 4 (QF4)– the Club ranked fourth in the Standing League Table will play at home against the Club ranked fifth in the Standing League Table.

    The winners of the quarter-final Matches will proceed to the semi-finals. The semi-finals will be knock-out, each played over one Match and organised as follows:

    Semi-final 1 (SF1) – the winner of QF1 versus the winner of QF4. The winner of QF1 will be the ‘home’ Club.

    Semi-final 2 (SF2) – the winner of QF2 versus the winner of QF3. The winner of QF2 will be the ‘home’ Club.

    Grand Final – the winner of SF1 versus the winner of SF2. The Semi-final winner possessing the highest ranking from the Standing League Table will be the ‘home’ Club for the Vodacom URC Grand Final. This is subject to the highest-ranked Semi-final winner having access to a venue with a capacity of 18,000 and above.

    How the Vodacom United Rugby Championship ‘Shields’ work

    Points in all 18 Vodacom URC games contribute to Shield standings so victories against regional rivals have added importance when it comes to finishing top of the group and locking up a place in the Heineken Champions Cup. Shield opponents also face each team within their group home and away (6 games) while facing the remaining 12 URC teams just once (home or away).

    • Irish Shield: Connacht, Leinster, Munster, Ulster
    • South African Shield: Vodacom Bulls, Emirates Lions, Cell C Sharks, DHL Stormers
    • Welsh Shield: Cardiff Rugby, Dragons, Ospreys, Scarlets
    • Italian & Scottish Shield: Benetton, Edinburgh, Glasgow Warriors, Zebre

    Heineken Champions Cup Qualification

    • Qualification for the Champions Cup will be evenly split between rankings in the league table
      (4 teams) and regional Shields (4 teams)
    • Each of the four regional Shield winners will qualify automatically
    • Those four Shield winners will be removed from the final league table and the four remaining highest-ranked teams will also qualify
    • Seedings for Champions Cup will be based upon the league ranking of all eight teams

    Article written by

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