United Rugby Championship: Six head-to-heads to watch in the South African derbies, including Makazole Mapimpi v Canan Moodie

The South African United Rugby Championship sides close out 2022 with derbies on New Year's Eve, with the coastal teams hosting the Gauteng franchises as the Stormers face off against the Lions and the Sharks clash with the Bulls.  The gruelling derbies are bound to produce physical encounters paired with some flair, and while we could easily pick thirty head-to-heads, we have narrowed the list to just six to keep an eye on.  Credit: Alamy
The South African United Rugby Championship sides close out 2022 with derbies on New Year's Eve, with the coastal teams hosting the Gauteng franchises as the Stormers face off against the Lions and the Sharks clash with the Bulls. The gruelling derbies are bound to produce physical encounters paired with some flair, and while we could easily pick thirty head-to-heads, we have narrowed the list to just six to keep an eye on. Credit: Alamy

The South African United Rugby Championship (URC) sides close out 2022 with derbies on New Year’s Eve, with the coastal teams hosting the Gauteng franchises as the Stormers face off against the Lions and the Sharks host the Bulls. 

The gruelling derbies are bound to produce physical encounters paired with some flair, and while we could easily pick 30 head-to-heads, we have narrowed the list to just six to keep an eye on.

Sharks v Bulls

Ox Nche v Mornay Smith

Any of the six front-rowers could have featured here with the Bulls primed for the testing battle of taking on the Springbok-laden front-row of the Sharks.

However, we have highlighted the challenge Smith will face when he goes toe-to-toe with Nche. The Bulls‘ tighthead has been at the coalface of the ever-improving scrum that has won 17 penalties, the third-highest tally in the league, and conceded just three.

The Sharks pack has been stingy this season, conceding just one penalty at the set-piece, but they have used the platform to strike, scoring five tries from scrums, the joint most in the URC.

Smith put in a handy shift last time out, managing to front up against Springbok loosehead Steven Kitshoff and will look to replicate that against Kitshoff’s Test teammate.

If the Bulls are to leave Durban with a victory over the rejuvenated Sharks team, they will need to at least get parity in the scrums, with a lot resting on Smith’s shoulders to achieve that.

Siya Kolisi v Marco van Staden

The Sharks’ front-row will undoubtedly be a challenge for the Bulls, but the breakdown battle will be just as intriguing, especially with Kolisi and Van Staden colliding.

The two Springbok flankers grabbed tries in the derbies last weekend and will be out to add to their tallies in the year’s final match.

In the Sharks’ victory over the Lions, Kolisi shone with ball in hand, gaining 49 running metres, the second most by a South African forward during Round 10, with the Springbok captain charging down the wing at Ellis Park. Although he thrived in the wider channels against the Lions, don’t be surprised to see the 31-year-old stationed more centrally to combat Van Staden.

The Bulls’ openside flanker has excelled since returning to the Pretoria-based side, making the second most ruck entries for Jake White’s charges in the league.

Makazole Mapimpi v Canan Moodie

The Springbok regular goes up against the fresh-faced Test speedster.

Mapimpi has made the number 11 jersey his own in the Test set-up, but his jersey is under threat with both of the Bulls’ two starting wingers on Saturday making the step up to Test rugby look easy this year.

The Sharks’ flyer has been in red-hot form over the last three weeks, claiming man-of-the-match performances in the wins over Harlequins and the Lions, scoring twice in both games. While he didn’t manage to cross the whitewash against Bordeaux, he did cause the French outfit all kinds of problems by beating six defenders.

Meanwhile, Moodie gets his second start in a row as he was one of the players rested for the Bulls’ Champions Cup fixtures. He had a relatively quiet game, for his standards, against the Stormers and will look to bounce back to his usual highs with the challenge of Mapimpi ahead of him.

In his earlier appearance this month, he grabbed two tries in the comprehensive victory over Cardiff.

Stormers v Lions

Hacjivah Dayimani v Emmanuel Tshituka

Lions star Tshituka moves from the side of the scrum to the back of the pack and goes head-to-head with the in-form Stormers star Dayimani.

Dayimani will be raring to go against his former employers, having settled in and impressed in Cape Town for the Stormers. The 25-year-old has been in outstanding form of late, filling the number eight jersey in Evan Roos’ absence.

He produced a man-of-the-match performance in the Champions Cup tie with London Irish. He scored a try in the 34-14 win and backed that up with another dominant performance against the Bulls last time out. He regularly beats defenders with his slick footwork and is just as impactful on defence.

Meanwhile, Tshituka has been a leading figure for the Lions, making the second most tackles (59) for the side, the most carries (75) and has beaten the most defenders (19). The 22-year-old is already a superstar in his pack and will be out to impress against the imposing Stormers’ back-row.

Manie Libbok v Jordan Hendrikse

Two playmaking fly-halves clash in the number 10 jumpers, with the two in-form players looking to stamp their mark on the derby.

Libbok has cemented his place in the starting line-up for the Stormers, guiding the side to the URC title last season and earning a maiden Test cap in doing so. Meanwhile, Hendrikse has wrestled back the starting role from Giani Lombard at the Lions, with the Johannesburg outfit benefitting from the pair’s rivalry for the jersey.

The newly-capped Springbok, Libbok, has assisted five tries in his games for the Cape-based franchise, with two of those assists coming from kicks. His contestable kicks have also been of the highest order; on 10 occasions; his side has retained possession from his kicks, a tally only matched by one fellow fly-half in the competition.

Hendrikse’s form also put him in the frame to earn a Test debut for South Africa this year, but Libbok was preferred while injuries did not help the Lions’ fly-half.

He will look to impress once again when he fronts up against the form local fly-half and will need to show off his complete set of skills if he is to steer his side to victory. While the Lions are known for their running rugby, they are evolving as they have kicked more times in open play than any other South African URC side, and his accuracy with the boot will be crucial.

Suleiman Hartzenberg v Henco van Wyk

Two rising stars in the outside centre role in South Africa have the opportunity to shine against their rival for one final time in 2022.

It has been a breakthrough year for the two young talents as Hartzenberg helped the South African U20s to a Six Nations Summer Series title before earning his URC debut and a South Africa A call-up.

He was joined in the South Africa A team by Van Wyk who has been a shining light in the Lions backline combining in for a formidable centre pairing with Marius Louw, who will captain the side on Sunday.

Both players have featured six times in the league this season and have impressed on defence, with Van Wyk completing 90% of his attempted tackles and Hartzenberg completing 84%. They have both won four turnovers.

As for the attack, they are level on try involvements with three apiece, Hartzeberg scoring three and Van Wyk assisting one and scoring twice.

The two promising talents have enjoyed similar starts to the season and will look to get the upper hand on Sunday and could turn the game around with contributions on either side of the ball.

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