Connect with us


Halfway There: SA Trio In Good URC Shape

Three of the four South African sides have put themselves in good positions to qualify for the playoffs at the halfway stage of the United Rugby Championship.


Three of the four South African sides have put themselves in good positions to qualify for the playoffs at the halfway stage of the United Rugby Championship, writes Quintin van Jaarsveld.

The URC isn’t won in January/February, but the groundwork has been laid and the frame of the title puzzle is starting to be filled out. The Bulls, Stormers and Lions can all be satisfied by their endeavour in the first half of the regular season, while the Sharks are hoping to turn the corner after stinking up the joint thus far.

Bolstered Bulls Lead The Charge

Shrewd signings by Jake White have seen the bolstered Bulls find the greatest balance of the South African franchises and lead the local charge. Sitting fourth behind log leaders Leinster (34), surprise package Benetton (32) and Franco Smith’s Glasgow Warriors (31), the men from Pretoria have won six of their nine games and have collected 30 points.

Adding international talents like Willie le Roux, Akker van der Merwe, Wilco Louw and Jaco van der Walt along with trusty performers such as Henry Immelman and Sergeal Petersen have done wonders for the Bulls’ depth and ability to be competitive on a consistent basis.

White’s man-management has also been unrivalled amongst the local crop of coaches, with his team producing solid results despite the absence of key strike weapons Kurt-Lee Arendse and Canan Moodie due to Springbok resting protocols.

The likes of Cameron Hanekom and David Kriel, whose move into the midfield has proved to be a masterstroke, have been revelations and they’ve led the way in terms of rookies and so-called second-tier players making the step up and carrying the load upon asking.

Tactically, they’ve also been the most in-tune of the local sides, playing an impressive brand of total rugby, although, closing out games remains a work in progress. Nevertheless, with the overseas teams who are faring so well all still set to tour South Africa, some during the Six Nations window to boot, the Bulls and Stormers will fancy their chances of finishing in the top four to earn home playoffs.

Stormers Course-correct In Style

After starting the season with back-to-back wins, the Stormers slipped down the ladder as they endured a winless European tour, dropping games to Glasgow, Benetton, Munster (in a repeat of last season’s final) and Cardiff. A string of injuries have hamstrung them as well.

However, their homecoming marked a turning point for the Cape outfit, who’ve gone on to win five games in a row in all competitions, including three in the UFC, to improve to 5-4 and move up to seventh place on 26 points. Between them and the Bulls are Munster (28) and Edinburgh (26), with the Scottish club boasting a better points difference.

Given their success against South African sides and their remaining fixtures, the inaugural champions look poised to finish in the top four for the third straight year.

Champions Cup Within Reach For Spirited Lions

The Lions, given their lack of depth and big-name players, have punched above their weight particularly well this season. Whether home or away, they’ve presented problems with their remarkable resolve to come in at No. 10 in the standings on 24 points.

Sandwiched between them and the Stormers are the Ospreys (25) and Connacht (24 – superior points difference). With such tight margins, the pride of Johannesburg have never been in a better position to claim a place in the top eight and the European Champions Cup berth that comes with it.

With the diminutive Sanele Nohamba as their unlikely conductor, the second half of the regular season will be a war of attrition for the Lions as most of their first-choice players will be full of aches and pains and low on stamina down the final stretch. If they’ve proved anything so far, though, it’s to never count them out.

Embattled Sharks Need Plenty Of Shovels

Finally, there’s the Sharks. The Durban side have criminally underperformed with just a solitary win in their nine matches – a 69-14 drubbing of the Dragons – leaving them dead last on nine points.

With John Plumtree coming in as coach, teething problems were expected, but the season so far has been nothing short of a catastrophe, especially for a side with such star power.

The drop-off between the Springbok-laden ‘A’ team and the second stringers is simply too steep and players, irrespective of where they are in the pecking order, seem to be in two minds.

Having dug themselves into a deep hole, the only way to go is up and their stellar form in the European Challenge Cup has given their frustrated fans hope for a turnaround. To what degree remains to be seen.

Quintin Van Jaarsveld is a former MDDA-Sanlam SA Local Sports Journalist of the Year and a former three-time Vodacom KwaZulu-Natal Sports Journalist of the Year. Formerly the sports editor and Outstanding Journalist of the Year award winner at The Fever Media Group, deputy editor at eHowzit, editor at and senior staff writer at, he boasts over 15 years’ experience and is currently a freelance sports writer.

More in Rugby