Sport

UNITED RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP

Peerless Stormers’ impenetrable Cape Town stadium fortress still intact, while the Bulls and Sharks fall flat

Peerless Stormers’ impenetrable Cape Town stadium fortress still intact, while the Bulls and Sharks fall flat
Angelo Davids of Stormers during the United Rugby Championship match between DHL Stormers and Cell C Sharks at DHL Stadium on 4 March, 2023 in Cape Town. (Photo: Carl Fourie/Gallo Images)

The Stormers have wrapped up the South African conference of the United Rugby Championship (URC) through an incredible invincible streak against local opposition.

The Stormers’ 29-23 URC victory over the Sharks on Saturday, 4 March at DHL Stadium marked their 15th consecutive victory at home in all competitions.

The last time the Cape Town-based side failed to win at their new fortress was on 4 December 2021, when they succumbed 37-19 to the Lions – that was the Stormers’ first URC clash at the venue.

Saturday’s victory was hard fought, the Stormers were 26-6 ahead at one point, but the Sharks fought back valiantly in the last 20 minutes to make for a nervy finish.

“There were some disappointing elements in our game, but then the character of our team came through again (at the death),” said Stormers coach John Dobson after the match.

“But with 13 players, we looked comfortable in defence. It was a bit odd. In the end, I felt we were in control of the game. But jeepers, how many tries did we throw away in the second half?”

Cornal Hendricks of the Vodacom Bulls during the United Rugby Championship match between Vodacom Bulls and Emirates Lions at Loftus Versfeld on 4 March, 2023 in Pretoria. (Photo: Gallo Images)

Victory home and away

The victory means the Stormers have now beaten the Lions, Sharks and Bulls home and away during the league phase of the URC this season — securing the SA shield in the process.

“I thought we were going to give up the clean sweep and that would’ve been sad. I was very disappointed with our discipline in the second half, it was poor,” said Dobson after his team received two yellow cards in the second stanza.

The Stormers are now off for two weeks before they face top-of-the-table and unbeaten Leinster away from home, later this month. But they will put their feet up knowing the bulk of the hard work is done this URC season – as they sit comfortably in second place on the log, with two of their final three league phase games at their fortress: DHL Stadium.

“We’ve worked incredibly hard on the shape and depth of the group. Everyone here feels a sense of belonging; it doesn’t matter who they are,” said Dobson.

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The Sharks, meanwhile, head back to Durban with their tails between their legs, in seventh place on the log.

However, their final three matches of the URC season – against Scarlets, Benetton and Munster – are all at home, so their chances of qualifying for the quarterfinals still remain good — especially with their Springbok contingent joining the fray in the next round of matches.

Paul de Wet of Stormers during the URC match between DHL Stormers and Cell C Sharks at DHL Stadium on 4 March in Cape Town. (Photo: Carl Fourie/Gallo Images)

Lions roar over Loftus

The Lions conjured up a magnificent performance to defeat their Jukskei rivals 29-25 in the evening on Saturday, 4 March, at Loftus Versfeld.

It’s the 11th-placed Lions’ second victory in a row, after their brilliant 35-24 win over Glasgow Warriors at Ellis Park last week.

While it’s the Bulls’ second defeat in a row – at Loftus – after losing 23-19 to the Stormers.

“I’m lost for words,” said Bulls captain Ruan Nortje after the match. “It’s frustrating and tough to lose two games in a row [at] Loftus.

“Obviously the guys kept on fighting until the end, but that’s not good enough when you give away silly penalties and your discipline is not up to standard. That’s probably why the result went against us.

“It’s always great to get (four-try bonus) points out of a game, but we take it personally. For us, it’s unacceptable to lose [at] Loftus – it’s very tough.”

The Bulls are currently sixth on the URC log, two points ahead of the Sharks. The Bulls have a tough end-of-season run-in with an away fixture against Ulster, and a home fixture against Leinster, sandwiching Zebre at home.

The Bulls could easily finish the league phase of the tournament in seventh place. A position that might not bother the Pretoria-based side if the Stormers finish second.

That would mean the Bulls play the Stormers in Cape Town for a place in the semi-finals of the URC – a rematch of last season’s final.

Although the Bulls have faltered in their last three visits to the stadium, they would much more favour playing in conditions they are familiar with than having to face a strong Irish or Scottish outfit in Europe. DM

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