United Rugby Championship: Five takeaways from the South African derbies including Hacjivah Dayimani knocking on the Springbok door

Five takeaways from SA united rugby championship (URC) derbies pic 1 January 2022.jpg Credit: Alamy
Five takeaways from SA united rugby championship (URC) derbies pic 1 January 2022.jpg Credit: Alamy

Following victories for the Sharks and Stormers over the Bulls and Lions in their South African United Rugby Championship (URC) derbies, here’s our five takeaways from the matches in Durban and Cape Town.

Bulls’ ill discipline proves costly again

The Pretoria-based outfit made an impressive start to their encounter against the Sharks in Durban as they held the upper hand during the early exchanges and were leading 13-6 midway through the first half. That was largely due to the efforts of Springbok flyer Canan Moodie, who crossed for a well-taken try, but it wasn’t long until Moodie would turn from hero to villain in this fixture.

On the half-hour mark, things went pear-shaped for the visitors as Moodie was yellow carded for a deliberate knockdown close to his try-line, and the Sharks were also awarded a penalty try due to his indiscretion. Seven minutes later, Cyle Brink was also sent to the sin bin for a professional foul on defence – after the Bulls had received several team warnings prior to that. That also proved costly as the Sharks made full use of their numerical advantage, and tries from Grant Williams and Bongi Mbonambi soon followed, which gave the home side a comfortable 30-13 lead at half-time.

Later on, Moodie was red-carded after receiving his second yellow card late in the second half. Bulls director of rugby Jake White will be concerned over his team’s discipline – or lack thereof – as a similar scenario occurred in their defeat to the Stormers the previous week, when Elrigh Louw and Marco van Staden also received first-half yellow cards and although it was not as costly as against the Sharks, the Bulls were on the back foot with a numerical disadvantage – and White will want to sort out his team’s disciplinary issues as soon as possible.

Sharks’ Springboks make a big impact

Sharks director of rugby Neil Powell has several players at his disposal who are regulars in the Springboks’ matchday squads, and their experience proved to be a shot in the arm against the Bulls. Senior Springboks like captain Siya Kolisi, Lukhanyo Am, and Makazole Mapimpi were in action in their win over the Lions – alongside fellow Boks Williams, Curwin Bosch, Rohan Janse van Rensburg, Sikumbuzo Notshe and Thomas du Toit – and they all made meaningful contributions in that victory.

However, the Sharks were further boosted when more Bok stars like Eben Etzebeth, Mbonambi and Ox Nche were included in their starting line-up for the Bulls clash, while another Bok, Jaden Hendrikse, was on the replacements bench in both matches. The inclusion of Etzebeth, Mbonambi and Nche against the Bulls, significantly improved the Sharks’ forward play as the trio were at the forefront of their team’s onslaught up front, which set an excellent platform for their backline.

Apart from Etzebeth, Mbonambi and Nche, Kolisi also caught the eye with an outstanding performance, and it was not a surprise when the Springbok skipper walked off with the official man-of-the-match award after the game. The 31-year-old led from the front and shone on attack and defence, while also winning some crucial turnovers. Meanwhile, Bosch impressed again with accurate goal-kicking while his playmaking skills have also come on in leaps and bounds.

Hacjivah Dayimani knocking on the Springbok door

Dayimani was one of the Stormers‘ star performers during their triumphant 2021/22 United Rugby Championship campaign, but he has hit the ground running in the 2022/23 season and has played arguably the best rugby of his career in recent weeks. On Saturday, against the Lions, Dayimani was named man of the match after he came to the fore with yet another brilliant attacking display.

Playing at number eight, Dayimani was in a rampant mood against his former side and proved to be a great link between the Stormers’ forwards and backs, who were dangerous on attack throughout. Whenever the 27-year-old got his hands on the ball, there was an air of expectancy from the Cape Town Stadium crowd, and he did not disappoint as he breached the Lions’ defence on several occasions with outstanding attacking runs.

Stormers right-wing Angelo Davids was the big beneficiary as he crossed for two tries, but Dayimani deserves plenty of credit for both scores as he laid the groundwork with great carries before offloading on both occasions to Davids, who rounded off superbly. Although Dayimani is filling in for the Stormers’ first choice number eight Evan Roos, he has really blossomed in the position in recent weeks. Blessed with plenty of pace and creativity, he has shown that he has a wonderful skill-set, and if he continues in this vein for an extended period, he could be rewarded with Springbok colours in 2023.

Stormers’ superb home form

Stormers boss John Dobson spoke about his team’s impressive record at home ahead of the game, and his charges did what was asked of them as they sealed an emphatic 40-8 triumph against the men from Johannesburg. That meant they finished the year with a perfect record when playing at home as they have won 17 consecutive matches in their backyard.

Under Dobson’s guidance, the men from the Cape have been outstanding on home soil, and a closer look at their winning run shows that they have some heavyweights on that list with the likes of Leinster, the Bulls, Ulster and the Sharks who came off second best to them during their triumphant 2021/22 URC campaign. That, of course, includes their win over the Pretoria-based outfit in last season’s league fixture and the final, and they have continued with that outstanding home form in the 2022/23 season.

Dobson’s troops have already seen off Connacht, Edinburgh, Scarlets, Dragons, the Bulls and Lions in their home matches this season, and that fine form has elevated them to second position in the URC standings, just three points adrift of table-toppers Leinster, after 10 rounds of action. They are away to Glasgow Warriors, Ulster and the Bulls for their next three URC matches before facing the Sharks in Cape Town on Saturday, March 4, in their next home fixture.

Lions still far from the finished article

While the Stormers, Bulls and Sharks are amongst the URC’s top five teams, the Lions are languishing in 10th position in the standings, and they still have some way to go before they reach the level of the other South African franchises. In their clash with the Stormers, they were never at the races, and at times it looked like it was a case of men against boys as the home side dominated for long periods.

Maybe that is exactly the case as despite having experienced players like former Springbok enforcer Willem Alberts and journeyman twins Ruan and JP Smith in their ranks, the vast majority of the Lions’ other players are up-and-coming youngsters, who are still learning their trade as professional rugby players. In fact, apart from Alberts and the Smith twins, second-row Pieter Janse van Vuren and reserve hooker Jaco Visagie were the only other players aged 30 or older in the Johannesburg outfit’s matchday squad against the Stormers.

That is five players from a squad of 23, of which Jordan Hendrikse, Henco van Wyk, Quan Horn, Sanele Nohamba, Ruan Venter, Asenathi Ntlabakanye, Emmanuel Tshituka and Jarod Cairns – who were all in the starting line-up against the Stormers – are between the ages of 20 and 23. Although Lions coach Ivan van Rooyen and his backroom staff are obviously backing the youngsters at the franchise, Saturday’s heavy defeat showed that they still have a long way to go before they can hold their own against a side like the Stormers, who have a good blend of experience in their ranks.

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