North-south derby: The rivalry that powers South African rugby returns this weekend

·4-min read
North v South: Stormers and Bulls run out the URC final. Credit: Alamy
North v South: Stormers and Bulls run out the URC final. Credit: Alamy

The United Rugby Championship returns this weekend with the greatest rivalry in South African club rugby, the north v south derby. Bulls v Stormers in Cape Town.

The vintage rivalry dates back to the early Currie Cup days, where South Africa’s two most successful teams have won the competition a whopping 59 times between them – well and truly above the rest of the pack.

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The derby has some of the most glittering South African stars slug it out for silverware and bragging rights in a rivalry that almost seems to get hotter each time the teams meet.

Last time they met

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

The Bulls had defied the odds in the semi-finals, toppling overwhelming favourites 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 it all.

Meanwhile, the Stormers had gone on a club record 11 consecutive wins earning the right to host the final.

It was the visitors who were out of the blocks first with an early Harold Vorster try that was converted by Chris Smith. Stormers star Manie Libbok added a penalty to leave the score 3-7 at halftime in favour of the Bulls.

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

Replacement 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 hammered home the final nail in the coffin with a drop goal in the 74th minute to seal the title for the Cape Town men – their first international trophy in the club’s history.

How have the teams fared since?

For the most part, both teams have continued their growth since 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 points difference. However, the defending champions have a game in hand on their rivals that coach John Dobson will no doubt be looking to cash in to leapfrog his rivals.

The Pretoria men did start slower than the Stormers in the URC but have since found their rhythm and look a lot more threatening.

Meanwhile, the Stormers had a solid start but have let second-half woes sneak into their game over the last four games and will be hoping to nip that in the bud.

Team news

Bulls boss Jake White split his squads between the URC and Champions Cup, meaning his most powerful stars have had two weeks’ rest going into the Cape Town clash compared to the Stormers, who had their key stars play in two gruelling clashes.

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 to having a fresh set of players, and in the medium, to long-term for the season, it will certainly pay off but may be a risk against the Stormers.

The Stormers benefit from continuity and will be looking to catch the rested stars cold, while the Bulls will be looking to play on the Cape Town men’s tired legs making for a massive derby.

Why South African needs the north v south derby

Over the last couple of weeks, as the South African teams debuted in the Champions and Challenge Cups and the poor attendance at games, exasperated by the large grounds, has come under fire.

The worrying aspect is that attendance figures were likely improved for those games compared to the URC games prior to that. The bottom line is that fans are not attending games even with some tickets as cheap as R25 (£1.18), which could be for various reasons.

One of them was the Test season because when the Springboks are playing week on week, nothing else matters in the country. Now the Test stars have returned to their clubs, attendance should start to build again. Enter a well-timed north v south derby.

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

Friday’s game is far more than just two teams slugging it out. It is a game that South African fans desperately need.

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