The rivalry that fuels South African rugby returns this weekend

North v South: Stormers and Bulls sell out URC final. Credit: Alamy

The United Rugby Championship returns this weekend with the biggest rivalry in South African club rugby, the North v South derby. Bulls versus Stormers in Cape Town.

The vintage rivalry dates back to the early days of the Currie Cup, where South Africa’s two most successful teams have won the competition an impressive 59 times together, way above the rest of the field.

The derby sees some of South Africa’s brightest stars battle it out for silverware and bragging rights in a rivalry that almost seems to get hotter every time the teams meet.

The last time they met

Adding further spice to the derby is their latest meeting, in the inaugural Grand Final of the United Rugby Championship.

The Bulls had defied the odds in the semi-final, toppling overwhelming favorites Leinster in their own backyard to set up not just an all South African final but a North v South derby with the winner taking all.

Meanwhile, the Stormers had gone on a club record 11 match winning streak to earn the right to host the final.

It was the visitors who came out of the blocks first with an early try from Harold Vorster which was converted by Chris Smith. Stormers star Manie Libbok added a penalty to make the score 3-7 at half-time in favor of the Bulls.

The Stormers turned up in the second half with a rampant Evan Roos crashing in for an important try early on. Libbok made no mistake with his conversion after kicking a penalty minutes before the goal. Smith canceled out Libbok’s penalty with one of his own.

Substitute hooker Andre Hugo-Venter scored a converted try in the 57th minute before Smith added another penalty minutes later.

The ball continued to bounce for the Stormers, and it was Libbok who drove the final nail into the coffin with a 74th-minute drop goal to seal the title for the Cape Town men – their first international trophy in the club’s history.

How have the teams fared since then?

For the most part, both clubs continued their growth from the final into the 2022/203 United Rugby Championship season, with the teams level on points in second and third position.

The Bulls are above the Stormers with a superior point differential. However, the defending champions have a game in hand over their rivals which manager John Dobson will no doubt be looking to cash in on to leapfrog his rivals.

The Pretoria men got off to a slower start than the Stormers in the URC but have since found their rhythm and look far more menacing.

Meanwhile, the Stormers have gotten off to a strong start, but have let second-half woes sneak into their game over their last four games and are hoping to nip it in the bud.

Team news

Bulls boss Jake White has split his squads between the URC and the Champions Cup, meaning his most powerful stars have been given two weeks off for the Cape Town clash compared to the Stormers, who have had theirs Key stars play in two grueling showdowns.

White’s decision was to clearly target this game given how decisive it will be in securing the South African shield. There is huge merit in having a fresh set of players and medium to long term for the season it will certainly pay off but could be a risk against the Stormers.

The Stormers are benefiting from the continuity and will be looking to catch the rested stars, while the Bulls will be looking to play on the tired legs of the Cape Town men by creating a huge derby.

Because the South African needs the North-South derby

In the past two weeks, as South African teams have made their debuts in the Champions League and Challenge Cups and the low attendance at matches, exacerbated by the large stadiums, has been put to the test.

What’s concerning is that attendance data has likely been improved for those games compared to previous URC games. The bottom line is that fans do not attend matches even with some tickets as cheap as R25 (£1.18), which could be due to various reasons.

One of them was the test season because when the Springboks are playing week after week, nothing else in the country matters. Now that the Test stars have returned to their clubs, attendances are expected to start growing again. Enter a north versus south derby at just the right time.

What could be better than the greatest rivalry in the country’s history to reinvigorate fan interest in club rugby? Two titans clashing for bragging rights, for the smoothest path to the South African conference title.

Friday’s game is much more than two teams getting busy. It’s a game that South African fans desperately need.

READ MORE: Planet Rugby Team of the Year: Rieko Ioane, Damian Penaud and Frans Malherbe make it, but Ireland boast most representatives

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