| 14.8°C Dublin

Cape crusaders’ final flourish can spur a renewed Irish challenge

Close

Seabelo Senatla of the Stormers tackled by James Hume of Ulster during the United Rugby Championship semi-final at DHL Stadium in Cape Town. Photo: Sportsfile

Seabelo Senatla of the Stormers tackled by James Hume of Ulster during the United Rugby Championship semi-final at DHL Stadium in Cape Town. Photo: Sportsfile

Tom Farrell of Connacht evades the tackle of Lionel Mapoe of Vodacom Bulls on his way to scoring his side's fourth try during the United Rugby Championship match between Connacht and Vodacom Bulls at The Sportsground in Galway. Photo by Harry Murphy/Sport

Tom Farrell of Connacht evades the tackle of Lionel Mapoe of Vodacom Bulls on his way to scoring his side's fourth try during the United Rugby Championship match between Connacht and Vodacom Bulls at The Sportsground in Galway. Photo by Harry Murphy/Sport

/

Seabelo Senatla of the Stormers tackled by James Hume of Ulster during the United Rugby Championship semi-final at DHL Stadium in Cape Town. Photo: Sportsfile

A fella could have made a pile of cash last October predicting an all-South African URC final when the Bulls were getting hosed in Connacht and the bullish Jake White was being run out of town.

Having somehow offended the occasionally prickly westerners before the game by offering his perceptions on the province, the subsequent shellacking went down well with the natives, who like nothing better to see big egos scarpering with their pants around their ankles.

After the match, chewing a nest of wasps, it was as if White had never witnessed a rain shower; Connacht looked the more likely trophy winners then, never mind the Bulls or any of the struggling South Africans.

It looked as if the Celtic League had been sold another pup.

“It’s a really valid point,” says former Bok out-half Joel Stransky. “At that time, we were all wondering why all our teams had started so slowly given the talent we had even without the Springbok internationals.

“We used excuses about law interpretations and too much training. Bulls had already got smoked against Benetton in the Rainbow Cup final. It was worrying.”

The Omicron wave of Covid-19 also wrought havoc as the competition threatened to implode but since Christmas, the transformation in fortunes, as the South Africans thrived in the home comforts of heat and altitude, has been remarkable.

Ironically, a day borrowed from the west of Ireland may greet the combatants this evening, likely to suit the Stormers and their international front-row.

Should the Bulls prevail, it would rank close to World Cup winner White’s finest achievements in the game.

Despite earnest pleas to president Cyril Ramaphosa from former Bok and current deputy mayor Eddie Andrews, the Cape Town stadium will remain half-full due to Covid restrictions, with the capacity capped at 30,000.

Rugby Newsletter

Subscribe to 'The Collision' for a weekly update from Rugby Correspondent Ruaidhri O'Connor and the best writing from our expert team Issued every Friday morning

This field is required

It remains to be seen how many Irish eyes will tune in this evening for a game that, horrifyingly for hurling fans, has shunted two Semple Stadium quarter-finals from their planned prime time slots.


Fickle

The perennially fickle Irish rugby fans may tune out, too; but those in charge of the four provinces will pay keen attention as they bid to ensure there is no repeat of their dismal conclusion to the United Rugby Championship campaign.

“It doesn’t sit well for the teams up here,” admits former Ireland winger Tommy Bowe, although he cautions against wild panic within the sport here.

“There won’t be any huge change. Leinster will be wise and come back stronger. They will be wounded. But the Irish teams shouldn’t be too worried.

“The South African sides will get stronger but it’s not as if they are significantly better. It just re-shifts the focus.

“We’ve been crying out for more competitiveness so now that we have it, it’s a reality now but we shouldn’t be frightened of it.

“The Irish sides wanted more competition and a challenge and it’s a huge shock to the likes of Leinster particularly. It will be a good thing.

“Winning five titles in a row is not good for the competition or Leinster, just as three Irish teams in the semi-final is not good for the league or maybe even the Irish international team. So this is brilliant and a totally different challenge.”

Bowe is arrow-straight in his assessment; Irish sides were not only outmuscled but out-thought as the South Africans swept through the latter stages of the league; their impact on Europe will be a fascinating prospect.

The Irish don’t necessarily need to be stronger, just smarter; Leinster and Ulster were undone by tactical and technical inefficiencies, as well as an inability to get key selection and substitution calls right.

Munster remained in stasis all season while Connacht were wracked by inconsistencies.

Form has created this final opportunity; Stormers have won their last 10 matches since losing 19-17 to Connacht in Galway while the Bulls have only lost one of their last 11, the loss notably coming against the Stormers in April.

The canny White predicted then that the sides may well meet again in a play-off game and here they are. Logic dictates that the Bulls may benefit more from the conditions but with Steven Kitshoff and Frans Malherbe in their front-row, the Stormers can edge the contest.

URC Grand Final, Stomers v Bulls,
Live, RTÉ/Premier Sports, 6.0


Most Watched





Privacy