Sitting here on a Sunday morning, having a coffee and writing this, puts a big smile on my face. Things looked glum when the South African franchises were ousted from Super Rugby in 2020. They looked even worse as the same franchises were stuck in derby after derby game during the Rainbow Nations Cup. Fast forward a year though and like me, you're waking up today to an all South African final in the United Rugby Championship.
When the URC kicked off in 2021, the SA based sides struggled to find their feet. The squads were depleted as players were on national duty and the difficulty of playing abroad and bio bubbles took their toll. It got even more bumpy as the first fixtures to take place in SA were postponed due to the sudden arrival of omicron and its subsequent travel bans.
When 2022 rolled around though, everything was different. Restrictions were lifted, crowds were back in the stadiums and the URC arrived in South Africa. The South African teams began to gain a foothold in the competition and to turn the tide. None more so than the Bulls who were languishing in 15th at one point, only to make it to the final now. After the dust of all the chaos subsided, South Africa boasted 3 sides in the play-off games, equal with Ireland. It was a truly proud South African moment.
People like Sam Warburton, Clive Woodward and many others have had a lot to say about the SA sides and where they belong. Sure, lets say they're entitled to their wrong opinions, but there is no doubt that where the SA teams play, they bring value. I can understand the frustration at seeing their premier tournament playing its show piece event in Cape Town, but the competitive level of the competition and 1 moment could have seen it being played in Ireland. It is a testament to the healthy level of competitiveness and the budding rivalries.
The Bulls will be hopping on a flight down to Cape Town, for what promises to be an incredible game. 30 000 fans were in attendance at the Stormers v Ulster game and you can bet on a full house for the final too. The weeks build up promises to be a spicy one as John Dobson & Jake White throw the favorites cap at one another, but regardless of who wins the match, South African rugby will win the day.
I have been glued to my tv in recent weeks, lapping up every second of URC action. The games are tight, competitive and go down to the wire more often than not. It is the perfect tournament for South Africa and they certainly came to the table this year. The Stormers and Bulls deserve great paise for carrying our flag so well and as of next weekend, there will forever be a South African side etched into European rugby history.