Sport

UNITED RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP

Super weekend for South African teams in URC as playoff picture takes shape

Super weekend for South African teams in URC as playoff picture takes shape
Lions wing Edwill van der Merwe dives over to score his side’s third try in the United Rugby Championship match against Connacht at The Sportsground in Galway, Ireland. (Photo: Piaras O Midheach / Gallo Images)

South African rugby enjoyed a stellar weekend in which it flexed its muscular depth in every department.

This isn’t a mistake. That Sharks won a game. The men from Durban secured only their second United Rugby Championship (URC) win of the season in Round 12.

While the 22-12 victory over Irish club Ulster at King’s Park was too little, too late, in terms of playoff hopes for the Sharks, it was essential for confidence in Durban. And it had the added benefit of stopping Ulster from climbing up the standings, which aided the causes of the Stormers and Lions in particular.

Sharks captain and centre Lukhanyo Am led from the front as they won only their second United Rugby Championship match of the season when they beat Ulster 22-12 at Kings Park Stadium. (Photo: Steve Haag Sports / Gallo Images)

And speaking of those two, the Lions were magnificent in beating Connacht 38-14 in Galway, even when they were down to 14 men for more than 62 minutes.

Prop Asenathi Ntlabakanye was red-carded for a dangerous tackle with the scores locked at 7-7. It looked dire for the Lions, but the Joburgers rallied with some fine play to score six tries in total on their way to a famous win. They are now firmly in playoff position in eighth position on 34 points, one point clear of Connacht.

sa teams urc ntlabakanye

Lions prop Asenathi Ntlabakanye is shown the red card by referee Chris Evans. (Photo: Piaras O Midheach / Gallo Images)

No 8 Francke Horn scored two tries, but it was a collectively brave and smart effort from Ivan van Rooyen’s charges.

The Lions have been quietly going about their business this season and they must now be considered serious threats at the business end of the competition.

The Bulls, Stormers and Lions are now in the top eight on the log after 12 rounds, while the Sharks moved off the foot of the table.

Making the results even more remarkable was that the Lions and Bulls secured vital away wins in Galway and Newport respectively, which will not only boost their confidence going into their next round on the road against the Ospreys and Leinster, but it has also enhanced their playoff ambitions.

Resurgent Stormers

sa teams urc stormers

Stormers centre Wandisile Simelane showed his deft footwork numerous times during the United Rugby Championship match against Edinburgh at DHL Stadium in Cape Town. (Photo: Ashley Vlotman / Gallo Images)

The Stormers also enjoyed a positive return to the DHL Stadium. They thumped Edinburgh 43-21 to surge from ninth to fifth in the standings with 35 points.

While their performance was marred by several missed opportunities, they produced some crackling rugby as well.

Newly recruited centre Wandisile Simelane was a menace with his balanced running and brilliant stepping, which created so much momentum for the home team.

Fullback Damian Willemse was outstanding again, demonstrating that he had locked down the Springboks’ No 15 jersey for the foreseeable future. There is simply no one in his overall league, with the ability to defend, track back, scan the horizon and launch scintillating attacks, seemingly on a whim.

The Stormers pack was strong, with players such as the unheralded flank Ben-Jason Dixon and hooker Andre-Hugo Venter producing impressive performances.

And behind the pack, Simelane was magic, with his electric feet and scorching brain, always causing panic in the defence. Even a botched try, when he lost control in the act of grounding the ball with one hand, could not detract from his overall display.

Wing Suleiman Hartzenberg scored a hattrick of tries with Leolin Zas and No 8 Evan Roos scoring two tries each.

“It felt like a bit of our spark was back,” Stormers coach John Dobson said. “It felt like that a lot more today, the way we want to play and our intensity, which is what [captain] Salmaan [Moerat] asked from the team before the game.

“What’s frustrating is how many tries we left out there. But that’s not a technical thing. It’s not like something is wrong with our shape.

“I would rather have this than not being able to create those opportunities.

“Wandi [Simelane] is going to be special. What you can all forget about, like Joseph Dweba’s lineout throwing, don’t worry about Wandisile’s defence. He understands our system completely.”

Bulls clinical

The Bulls showed grit until the final whistle, scoring two tries in the last five minutes to snatch a bonus-point 31-10 victory against the Dragons at Rodney Parade after holding a 10-3 lead at the break.

The teams took a few minutes to suss one another out before the Bulls opened the scoring with a penalty goal, which the hosts cancelled out minutes later. The visitors took full advantage of a yellow card to the home side, which saw Springbok Kurt-Lee Arendse score the first try of the match in the 27th minute.

The Pretoria outfit added their second try four minutes into the second half compliments of loose forward Celimpilo Gumede and they showed guts on attack, which could have seen them secure a bigger win had it not been for unforced errors.

Despite this, they kept their foot on the pedal throughout the match and this paid off with Embrose Papier scoring their third try five minutes from time, although they leaked one three minutes later.

The Dragons received their second yellow card in the dying seconds, and this set the perfect scene for Johan Grobbelaar to cross the chalk for the commanding win and valuable bonus point. DM

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