Home Sport SA teams now have URC home advantage

SA teams now have URC home advantage

Evan Roos of the Stormers during the 2021 Rainbow Cup SA game between the Stormers and the Bulls at Cape Town Stadium on 8 May 2021. Picture: Ryan Wilkisky, BackpagePix

Stormers out to ’streep’ Zebre

by Dudley Carstens

THE UNITED Rugby Championship’s whipping boys, Italy’s Zebre, will take the field at Cape Town Stadium tomorrow 3pm for the first time when they face the Stormers.

Off the back of five consecutive defeats, Zebre hit our shores with a negative points difference of 109.

They also arrive minus star winger Pierre Bruno, who has scored the most tries (2), beaten the most defenders (15), made the most offloads (7) and made the most metres (214) for his team to date.

Bruno is rested after making his debut for the Italy national team recently.

On the other side of the pitch, the Stormers’ star so far this season has been No.8 Evan Roos. He tops the Cape team’s charts with 20 defenders beaten and 240 metres gained.

Unlike Bruno, Roos was not involved in the end-of-year internationals, but if he continues in this vein it’s just a matter of time before he wears the Green and Gold.

Forwards coach Rito Hlungwani explains: “Evan’s improved quite a lot since he’s been here.

“He’s always been good, but I think what you guys see on the field is sort of the cherry on top.

“What really impressed me is seeing how he handles himself every day, how he’s so focused on his diet, how he is so focused on doing extras after training sessions, how he’s so focused on his team work, pretty much the hard work that you don’t see – the bottom of the iceberg.

“That’s the most impressive thing to me … special player but works really hard to make sure that he performs week in and week out.”

The Stormers will name their team for the clash today, but you can be sure that Roos will be in the mix as they go out to give Zebre ses vannie bestes.

Sharks bank on favourable Durban conditions

by Mike Greenaway

Henco Venter of the Cell C Sharks flies into the defence of Pieter-Steph du Toit and Ali Vermaak of the DHL Stormers during the 2021 Rainbow Cup SA game between the Sharks and the Stormers at Kings Park Stadium on 22 May 2021. Picture: Gerhard Duraan, BackpagePix

THE SCARLETS from Llanelli have the distinction of playing the first-ever United Rugby Championship match at Jonsson Kings Park, but that is where the pleasantries toward the Welshmen will end because the Sharks are desperate to get back on the winning trail.

Sean Everitt’s team ended their tour of the UK with an unfortunate loss to another Welsh team, Cardiff, and that gave them just one win from four matches as they currently languish in 14th position on the standings, with only the Bulls and Zebre below them.

The overall log is not pretty reading for South African observers, with all four SA teams between 12th (the Stormers) and 15th (the Bulls), but home-ground advantage this weekend should result in more South African wins, and there could even be a clean sweep.

The weather conditions are very different in Durban to Wales and while it won’t be particularly hot at the Shark Tank tomorrow, it will still be muggy.

Sharks captain Henco Venter told the media that from his experience as a Cheetahs player, visiting Durban in the summer is taxing.

“The humidity is definitely an advantage for us and I remember that from coming here to play against the Sharks for the Cheetahs,” said Venter.

“We always knew it was coming, but we struggled to handle it. There is definitely something in that for us. Just like the Scarlets and the other northern teams will use the cold, which they are more used to, to their advantage when we play them over there, so we will do the same when they come here. The humidity is a very different experience for a visiting player.”

It is obviously also not easy for the Sharks players, but they at least have experienced summer conditions.

Venter agreed that the Sharks butchered their last tour game against Cardiff.

“We definitely should have won that one. We knew all about the challenge of the refereeing interpretations of the laws and there were so many times we were in the Cardiff 22 where we should have executed but we didn’t,” he said.

The Sharks will name their team later today.

Five things Bulls must do to dominate at Loftus

by Ashfak Mohamed

THE BULLS had entered the United Rugby Championship with high hopes, having just won the Currie Cup for the second time in the same year in September.

But they were brought back down to earth with a massive bump in their first two weeks of the new competition, losing 31-3 to Leinster in Dublin and 34-7 to Connacht in Galway.

They managed to save face by beating Cardiff 29-19, but then came up short in their final tour game in a 17-10 defeat to Edinburgh.

But it is clear that the Irish provinces are the teams to beat in the United Rugby Championship, so here are five things the Bulls must do in tomorrow’s showdown with Munster at Loftus to end the Irish stranglehold …

1. Secure own line-outs

It was a nightmare Bulls debut for veteran hooker Bismarck du Plessis, who battled to find his line-out jumpers against Leinster. Munster also boast top line-out operators such as former Stormers lock Jean Kleyn and ex-Bulls star Jason Jenkins, while No.8 Jack O’Donoghue is also a wily jumper at the back – but they will be missing Irish Test players such as Tadhg Beirne and Peter O’Mahony.

First-choice Bulls No.2 Johan Grobbelaar should be back in the starting line-up against Munster after being part of the Springbok squad during the Rugby Championship, and his accurate line-out-throwing should aid locks Ruan Nortjée and Janko Swanepoel to secure their own feed, while No.8 Elrigh Louw must outfox O’Donoghue.

2. Sort out defence

Both Leinster and Connacht played a high-tempo attacking brand of rugby, and it just became too much to handle for the Bulls. The Pretoria team were forced to make tackle after tackle in Dublin and Galway, and were unable to maintain their physical intensity.

They need to be wide awake at the start, with Leinster sweeping into a 17-0 lead after just 13 minutes. There were just too many slipped tackles and defensive mistakes on tour, and those need to be cut out against Munster.

3. Turn pressure into points

The Bulls did actually dominate the physical battle against Connacht in the first half, and were also on top in the scrums, but only had seven points to show for it with the wind behind their backs.

That was not nearly enough, and they suffered the consequences in the second half when playing into a howling wind at The Sportsground.

And even when they are on top, they won’t always get the penalties from the referees. Bulls coach Jake White said after the Connacht match that “you’ve got to find other ways” to score points as South African teams may not always get the reward from referees in the scrums and mauls.

4. Variety on attack

The Bulls’ attacking play has been patchy in the United Rugby Championship so far. They’ve had some wonderful passages of play, but have been let down by their handling and decision-making against Leinster and Connacht especially.

So, it may be due to the speed and intensity of the Irish teams’ defences, but the Stormers showed that Munster’s system can be unlocked by running up a 15-0 lead in the first half in Limerick through a couple of fabulous tries, where they spun the ball out wide …

5. Deal with Van Graan factor

Johann van Graan knows every blade of grass, room and corner of Loftus after his long association with the Bulls, so he will prepare his team for every possible eventuality. The Bulls have to come up with a few new plays, whether it’s on attack or at the set-piece – just something different now and again, to try to catch out the Munster defence.

Lions to unleash Van der Merwe against Cardiff

by Morgan Bolton

Edwill van der Merwe makes his debut for the Stormers. Photo: Ryan Wilkisky/BackpagePix

HOW’S this for a backline trio: Wandisile Simelane, Edwill van der Merwe and Rabz Maxwane. If that doesn’t get Lions fans’ hearts racing, then by all means, check your pulse.

The fleet-footed and dangerous Van der Merwe will make his debut for the Lions against Cardiff Rugby this weekend when the United Rugby Championship (URC) resumes.

The former Stormers wing was snapped up by the union in late August, and with his contract now expired with Western Province, he has been immediately inserted into the starting XV by Lions coach Ivan van Rooyen.

The 25-year-old will form a lethal wing combination with the equally speedy Maxwane, playing in the No.14 jumper. And if outside centre Simelane finds his feet and off-loading game, the trio could be unstoppable with ball in hand on the outside.

Coupled with the fine form fullback EW Viljoen is in, the back three could run Cardiff ragged on Sunday at Emirates Airline Park (kick-off 4pm), if the conditions play nice.

Lions fans will also be pleased to note that Willem Alberts and Tiaan Swanepoel will return after sustained injury lay-offs, playing off the bench.

The raking boot of Swanepoel, in particular, could be a massive advantage for the Lions in the late stages of the match, if the game is a close encounter and if victory hinges on a massive penalty being slotted.

Van Rooyen has also opted for Fred Zeilinga at flyhalf, resolving for now a crisis in selection in that particular position during their tour of Europe last month.

Matt More will act as cover, but it is possible that Swanepoel could slot in at pivot.

The Joburg-based team will also unleash the exciting loose-trio of Jaco Kriel, Vincent Tshituka and Francke Horn, who did not play in the final two matches of the tour against Glasgow and Ulster.

Van Rooyen has also picked his strongest front row in Sti Sithole, Jaco Visagie and Carlu Sadie, who have not missed a beat during the campaign and have arguably been one of the best components of this Lions team.

Emirates Airline Park will also welcome back spectators – a maximum of 2,000 fans will be allowed in to watch the match.

“It’s good to be back home,” said Van Rooyen.

“We’ve put in solid training sessions on and off the field over the past three weeks and the guys are looking in great shape and quite excited to play at home.

“Our focus this weekend is to achieve a positive result by executing the plans we have set out for ourselves as a squad and, most importantly, improving on the gains we achieved overseas in certain areas.”

The Lions are 13th in the URC standings on six points, having won one of their four matches.

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