Home Sport South African URC teams need to make the most of home turf

South African URC teams need to make the most of home turf

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Early winter Europe became sizzling summer for the Bulls, Sharks, and Lions and all three turned up the heat on European teams to record scores well in excess of 50 points, and now they must kick on.

Jaco van der Walt of the Vodacom Bulls during the 2023 United Rugby Championships match against Connacht at Loftus Stadium in Pretoria on 25 November 2023. Picture: Samuel Shivambu, BackpagePix

Last week, three South African teams bounced back from tough URC tours with emphatic home wins, and Bulls flyhalf Jaco van der Walt says it must be a case of “cash in why while you can on home turf”.

Early winter Europe became sizzling summer for the Bulls, Sharks, and Lions and all three turned up the heat on European teams to record scores well in excess of 50 points.

“We felt the heat when we got back and clearly the visiting teams felt it even more,” Van der Walt said of Connacht, Zebre, and the Dragons, who were slaughtered by the Bulls, Lions, and Sharks.

“100% you have to cash in and put away these teams,” said Van der Walt, who spent four seasons in Scotland with Edinburgh, so he knows how the overseas psyche is affected by trips to Africa.

“This weekend it must continue (for the Lions and the Stormers) because some of those teams will still be here and this is South Africa’s chance to climb up the log,” he said.

The Stormers host Zebre and the Dragons visit the Lions.

The Bulls, of course, host the Sharks in the first local derby of the new tournament and it is shaping up to be a classic now that both teams have their full complement of Springboks.

“The Sharks are going to come hard at us,” said Van der Walt.

“Everyone saw the difference the Boks have made to the Sharks. We’ve been watching them and they have played some very good rugby (during their five losses) but maybe lacked some experience and leadership in certain positions.

“They have that now and their performance against the Dragons was incredible.”

The flyhalf expects this game to be the hardest of the season so far.

“There is always an extra physical edge when we play our own teams,” Van der Walt said, smiling.

“It is just the way it is. For us, it is a home game. We know how hard it is to win overseas, so every home game is vital.”

One team yearning for the green grass of home is the Stormers, who return to Cape Town winless and dejected.

It has left them down in 12th place on the table and there was no disguising the usually cheery John Dobson’s disappointment after his team’s 31-24 defeat to Cardiff.

“It’s been a poor tour for us and – as skipper Brok Harris said in the change room – we all need to look at what we could have done better right the way through,” he said.

“The two games we identified to win – Benetton and Cardiff – we chucked away, which is very disappointing.

“As a collective, we haven’t done ourselves any favours. I don’t think the competition thinks more of us. I don’t think some of the players or staff feel as good about themselves as we did.

“When we came on tour, we were hoping to get two wins and we haven’t got any.”

Dobson had been in a buoyant mood going into the game, saying how much he had been encouraged by the performance in the 10-3 defeat to Munster but his team took a backward step.

“Cardiff played with real fight, but we were extremely poor,” said Dobson.

“For us to give away seven scrum put-ins in the second half by losing the ball in contact or by knocking on is not good enough. There was some pretty careless handling.

“We seemed to want to make Hail Mary passes all the time. It was a really poor performance by us in that respect.

“We pride ourselves on our defence, but we are hurting because it wasn’t our best defensive performance by any stretch. We gave too many yards, we gave them space on the outside, they got around us, and we didn’t work hard enough for a couple of their tries.

“Other than the set piece, it was a really poor performance — defence, attack, the contestable game, the kicking game.

“I didn’t expect us to play like that, I must say. That wasn’t a pleasant experience.

“It was by far our worst performance on this trip. It was a very disappointing way to finish a disappointing tour.”

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