United Rugby Championship: North-south derby to electrify Cape Town in the quarter-finals

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United Rugby Championship: Split Stormers' John Dobson and Bulls' Jake White Credit: Alamy
United Rugby Championship: Split Stormers' John Dobson and Bulls' Jake White Credit: Alamy

The United Rugby Championship (URC) regular season has come and gone, with the business end of the campaign finally arriving after 18 rounds of action.

Eight teams remain, all with one goal – lifting the glowing URC trophy. There are some stunning match-ups across the quarter-finals but none more historic and personal than the north-south derby between the Stormers and Bulls at DHL Stadium in Cape Town.

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As far as rivalries go in rugby circles of South Africa, this is it. Two teams with glittering histories both locally and internationally slugging it out for the all-important bragging rights.

For the second time in as many seasons, the two sides meet in the knockout stages. Last term it was in the grand final where the Stormers clinched their maiden title. This time there is a semi-final spot at stake.

Coaching rivalry

As can be expected from such a rich rivalry as old as the hills, there have been many different subplots and stories intertwined in the action, with the most recent being the coaching battle between John Dobson and Jake White.

The two coaches are at different stages of their careers with Dobson’s tactical prowess beginning to shine ever so bright on the big stage, whilst White sits on his mountain of experience looking to piece the jigsaw together and build a powerhouse in Pretoria.

Their fortunes have been different too, as Dobson has found a way to connect with the Western Cape and its people by playing a style natural to the area and one that forces smiles on the faces of most who watch.

Meanwhile, White’s vision is clear; eyeing long-term success across all competitions, but that has not necessarily had the reward of late. However, with the mind of a World Cup-winning coach and a team loaded with resources, he may be one or two tweaks away from barging the door down on success.

Dobson enters the clash with the upper hand as the Stormers have dominated recent clashes against their rivals. However, the coach is wise enough to know that complacency is the kryptonite to success, especially with a rugby brain like White’s waiting to pounce.

How the teams fare coming in

The Stormers have done really well to kick on after their title last season and managed the additional Champions Cup fixtures fairly well.

However, there is no ignoring the disappointment of effectively handing Ulster second position on the table and possibly a home semi-final berth after losing to Munster at home in Round 17. This was around the same time Exeter Chiefs comprehensively outplayed them in the European quarter-finals.

Dobson will be conscious of this and looking to reinforce the belief within the squad, after all, they are the holders of the URC. What would have been a psychological boost is Western Province’s win over the Bulls in a Currie Cup fixture at DHL Stadium last weekend.

The picture in the Bulls camp is completely different as the Pretoria side struggled with a mid-season wobble and have slowly found their feet again. White’s men ended their regular season with two monstrous wins including Leinster’s biggest defeat ever – albeit a young and weakened Dublin side.

Ultimately they enter the clash with good momentum, some of which would have been lost from the Currie Cup defeat that saw several of their URC stars line up in Cape Town. Springbok Johan Goosen was also forced off the field with an injury which will be a massive blow if he is to miss the quarter-final.

Big crowd expected

The Stormers confirmed on their social media yesterday that 20,000 tickets have already been sold for the clash, with the sales set to increase this week.

The game could well be attended by more than 35,000 people as Cape Town looks to get behind their side. Expect a big Bulls contingent in attendance as they look to spoil the party in the Mother City.

There is much to consider and discuss in the build-up this week, but what is certain is that the next instalment of the historic north-south derby is set to be a complete and utter blockbuster.

READ MORE: United Rugby Championship: Bulls sweating on Johan Goosen’s fitness ahead of Stormers clash

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