The rivalry that drives South African rugby returns this weekend

North versus South: The Stormers and the Bulls are absent from the URC final. Credit: Alamy

The United Rugby Championship returns this weekend with South Africa’s biggest club rugby rivalry, the North v South derby. Bulls v 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 59 times between them – well above the rest of the field.

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

The last time they met

Adding even more spice to the derby is their last meeting, in the first grand final of the United Rugby Championship.

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

Meanwhile, the Stormers had won a club-record 11 consecutive wins, earning them the right to host the final.

It was the visitors who were the first out of the blocks with a first down by Harold Vorster which was converted by Chris Smith. Stormers star Manie Libbok added a penalty to put it 3-7 at halftime in favor of the Bulls.

The Stormers came into the second half with a rampant Evan Roos crashing down for an important early try. Libbok made no mistake with the conversion after kicking in a penalty minutes before the try. Smith canceled 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 kept bouncing for the Stormers, and it was Libbok who drove the final nail in the coffin with a 74th-minute drop goal to seal the title for the Cape Town men – their first international trophy in history of the club.

How have the teams fared since?

For the most part, both teams have continued their growth since the 2022/203 United Rugby Championship season final, with the sides level on points in second and third.

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

The Pretoria men started slower than the Stormers in the URC but have since found their groove and look much more threatening.

Meanwhile, the Stormers have been off to a good start but have let second-half woes sneak into their game for the past four games and hope to nip that 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 had two weeks off ahead of the Cape Town clash against the Stormers, who saw their key stars play in two grueling clashes.

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

The Stormers enjoy continuity and will be looking to nab the rested stars, while the Bulls will be looking to play on the tired legs of the Cape men for a massive derby.

Why South Africa needs the North v South derby

Over the past two weeks as South African teams have made their debuts in the Champions and Challenge Cups and low match attendance, infuriated by large pitches, has been criticized.

The worrying aspect is that the attendance figures have probably improved for these games compared to previous URC games. The bottom line is that fans are not attending matches even with tickets as cheap as R25 (£1.18), which could be for a variety of reasons.

One of them was the Test season, because when the Springboks play week after week, nothing else matters in the country. Now that the Test stars are back at their clubs, attendance should start to rise again. Enter a north versus south derby at the right time.

What better than the biggest rivalry in the country’s history to rekindle the interest of supporters in club rugby? Two titans face off for bragging rights, for the smoothest path to the South African conference title.

Friday’s game is about more than two teams playing each other. It’s a game that South African fans desperately need.

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North-South Derby: The rivalry driving South African rugby’s comeback this weekend first appeared on Planetrugby.com.

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