Sport

URC QUARTERFINALS

Roos and Moodie blows for Stormers and Bulls respectively before URC quarterfinals

Roos and Moodie blows for Stormers and Bulls respectively before URC quarterfinals
Canan Moodie of the Bulls scores a try during the 2023 United Rugby Championship game against the Stormers at Cape Town Stadium on 23 December 2023. (Photo: Ryan Wilkisky/BackpagePix)

The Bulls and the Stormers are South Africa’s surviving teams in the United Rugby Championship (URC), but both have significant injury concerns heading into the play-offs.

The Bulls and the Stormers have been here before — here being the quarterfinals of the URC — but the circumstances in 2024 are different.

Both sides are carrying significant injuries into the play-offs. The Bulls are without Bok utility back Canan Moodie and World Cup-winning flank Marco van Staden for their quarterfinal against Benetton at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday afternoon.

The Stormers have lost a swathe of players through the season and they were dealt another blow when star looseforward Evan Roos was ruled out of their Saturday evening quarterfinal against the Glasgow Warriors due to concussion.

bulls jake white

Bulls coach Jake White. (Photo: Lefty Shivambu / Gallo Images)

Bulls still bullish 

The Bulls, by virtue of finishing second in the 18-match (URC) Pool phase, will host Benetton at Loftus. The Stormers, who ended fifth on the standings, have to do it the hard way against Glasgow in Glasgow.

Last year the Stormers hosted the Bulls in the last eight clash at DHL Stadium. The Cape side won that match and went all the way to the final, where Munster upset them in Green Point.

For the Bulls it was a disappointing exit, especially as they and the Stormers had contested the inaugural URC final at DHL Stadium in 2022. 

But they’re back in the play-offs and arguably better than ever. Jake White’s team has delivered more consistency in 2024, and the stage is set for at least two home play-off games. If they go as far as qualifying for a final it will depend on what table-toppers Munster do over the next fortnight, to determine the venue for the final. 

Evan Roos of the Stormers during the United Rugby Championship 2023/24 game against Leinster at Cape Town Stadium on 27 April 2024 (Photo: Ryan Wilkisky/BackpagePix)

But first…

Firstly though, the Bulls must beat Benetton. It sounds like a straightforward assignment as the Italians have never beaten the Bulls in three attempts.

But the last time Benetton were at Loftus, just a few weeks ago, they exposed some frail Bulls defence on their way to a 56-35 loss. While it was ultimately a comfortable Bulls victory, conceding five tries at home will be nagging at the pre-match favourites. 

The team from Pretoria’s superior attacking statistics — their 85 regular season tries is a new URC record (Leinster scored 95 in the PRO14 in 2019) — will also boost their confidence, with 639 points scored (also the most in the league this season) to Benetton’s 411, while they will also draw comfort from the fact that they have only suffered one defeat at home this season.

Benetton, however, will enter the match with the mindset that they have nothing to lose. They registered 11 victories to 13 by the Pretoria outfit in the round-robin stages, conceding only 33 points fewer in their 18 matches to date. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: South Africa’s URC safari is pushing the tournament to new heights

White used his official message to urge Bulls fans to turn up at Loftus, a sure sign that there are some nerves in Pretoria. 

“It is easy to get carried away and start thinking too far ahead because we have every bit of ambition to go all the way,” White said.

“We are always competing to win and so this is a wonderful opportunity for our supporters to turn up for this game and paint Loftus blue on the weekend.

“This is a stubborn Italian side with international caps from front to back, so they will not be an easy challenge. And that is why we need that 16th player in the stands for 80 minutes.

“We are also fortunate to have a great kick-off time (3.30pm), which is good for the whole family with no school games around. So I am calling on all our local schools, clubs and communities to get to Loftus this weekend.” 

Stormers coach John Dobson in January 2024. (Photo: Nic Bothma/BackpagePix)

Roos ruled out blow

For John Dobson’s Stormers, the tough assignment in Glasgow became a little more difficult with barnstorming looseforward Roos ruled out of the clash with concussion. 

Roos has been consistently excellent through the season. And in last week’s final pool match against the Lions, which the Stormers won 29-24, Roos was superb.

His ability to win gainline metres and add variety in attack will be sorely missed at Scotstoun Stadium, where Glasgow have been excellent this season.

In addition to Roos, the Stormers have also lost key players such as Damian Willemse, Deon Fourie, Lizo Gqoboka, Leolin Zas and Ruhan Nel to injury. 

Adding to the difficulty, the Warriors have won nine out of nine URC games at home, including a 20-9 victory over the Stormers in round three.

Some of those wins, such as the opening season fixture against Leinster, came when the Irish giants were without Test players, but even so, Glasgow have created a stronghold that has been unbreachable so far this season.

Franco Smith’s Warriors topped the regular season stats for carries (2,417), defenders beaten (458) and metres made (7,846).

“We know that it will take a top performance to stay alive in this competition and that is a challenge we have embraced,” Stormers coach John Dobson said. 

“We will have to do it without a number of our frontline players due to injuries, but it is a testament to the depth we have built and the quality of our squad that there is plenty of belief.

“Despite having almost a full team ruled out, we have built up some good momentum heading into the play-offs. 

“This is our first URC play-off match away from home after playing six at DHL Stadium and we want to show that we can rise to the occasion.” DM

 

Bulls vs Benetton

Date: Saturday, 8 June

Venue: Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria

Referee: Mike Adamson

SA Time: 3.30pm

TV: SuperSport

 

Glasgow Warriors vs Stormers

Date: Saturday, 8 June

Venue: Scotstoun Stadium, Glasgow

Referee: Chris Busby

SA Time: 8.35pm

TV: SuperSport

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