The United Rugby Championship final is just two days away now and the excitement in South Africa is at an all time high. Two of our home franchises will be competing for the title this weekend, in their first ever season in the competition and we are in for a real contest. Fans are clamoring to get their hands on tickets to this weekends game and former Springbok, Eddie Andrews is pleading with the government to allow for a full Cape Town Stadium at the weekend.
Going into this fixture, each side presents with its different strengths and made their way to the final via different paths. The Stormers will be enjoying their 3rd play-off fixture in front of their home crowd, whilst the Bulls had to make a trip to Ireland last weekend to take on Leinster. Fortunately with the time zones being what they are in this competition, the players shouldn't be feeling too much travel fatigue on Saturday. With 80 minutes left to play, who goes into this fixture as favorites?
The Bulls and Stormers met one another twice during the regular season, so lets take a look at the 1st fixture. This game was played out at Loftus on 22 January. The SA sides had just started to re-establish themselves as contenders in the URC after a horrible start in 2021. This was a fairly loose game as both sides dotted down for 3 tries. The Stormers discipline proved the difference in this clash as they slotted 2 penalties against the home side and avoided conceding any penalty points themselves.
The return clash between the two sides took place in Cape Town during round 13 of the regular season, on the 9th of April. It was an extremely tight affair with the Stormers narrowly pipping the Bulls 19 - 17. The Bulls had outscored the Stormers 2 tries to 1, but the boot of Manie Libbok kept the scoreboard ticking as he recorded three penalties and a conversion to go with a drop goal from Damian Willemse.
The Stormers will be without try scoring machine Leolin Zas for this fixture, but hopeful that last weeks man of the match, Damian Willemse can pass a fitness test late in the week to make the starting line up. On the Bulls front it is a little different as Kurt-Lee Arendse made his return last weekend against Leinster and will likely start at fullback this weekend. Their main injury concern remains David Kriel who left the field early for an HIA last weekend.
The Stormers were in my opinion, a little off beat last week. That is a testament to their quality though as they still managed to secure the win. I have raved about Libbok for most of 2022 so far, but he did not perform to
his normal standards in the semi-final and a handful of other players also misfired ever so slightly. If Libbok can play as he has done all season, the Stormers should take this one as home ground advantage will lift them up too.
The Bulls come into this fixture with all the momentum after a stunning victory last weekend over the Irish. If they can carry that momentum for one more week, they will surely seal off a stunning come back season and lift the URC trophy. Marcell Coetzee made 27 tackles against Leinster and a similar herculean effort will be required this weekend as they will need to shut down the Stormers threats out wide.
"At the end of the day, there are no favourites in a final. Even I got it wrong in the studio last weekend with Victor and Gcobani when I said it would take something special to beat Leinster in Ireland."
Bakkies Botha said it right when he discussed how hard it would be to call this game. Taking all factors into account, I do agree there are no favorites here but I am going to have to go for Bulls by 3. Either way, SA Rugby will be smiling come Saturday night.