Venue: Cape Town Stadium, Cape Town
Date: Saturday 18 June
The first-ever winner of the United Rugby Championship will be a side from South Africa after the Bulls and Stormers beat Leinster and Ulster respectively to reach book their place in the final. Both games were tight affairs – the Bulls won 27-26 in Dublin and the Stormers 17-15 in Cape Town – and both teams are battle-tested and ready for this clash.
If you had said that a South African team would come out on top then few would have believed you after the first few weeks of the season. Both the Bulls and the Stormers have grown stronger as the comp progressed, eventually finishing in second (Stormers) and fourth (Bulls) on the log. If you discount the transitional Rainbow Cup last season – a comp the Bulls almost won – then this is the first time since 2007-08 and only the second time ever since its inauguration in 2001-02 that no Irish province has made it to the final of what was originally known as the Celtic League.
The Stormers will be absolutely flying after their late, later try to beat Ulster. Given that Adre Smith had been red-carded with the Stormers down by five points in the 70th minute, the late score was even more remarkable. Ulster’s late-game defense was heroic, but the pressure that the Stormers continued to apply until the Irishmen broke will stand them in good stead on Saturday.
The Bulls claimed their first-ever win in Ireland at the best time as Morne Steyn kicked a penalty to edge them over the line against heavily favored Leinster. At this point, it feels like any game that Steyn is involved in against a Northern Hemisphere side will end with him winning it with his boot.
The Stormers will again look to their high-tempo attack to wear down their opponents in the same way that has seen them successful to this point in the season. Expect the Stormers to work on doing the basics well – line speed defensively and clearing rucks quickly – before exploiting any space they create with their deadly finishers in the wide channels.
The Bulls will look to their own strengths to win in enemy territory this weekend. One area that they will look to gain the upper hand is in the lineout. The Bulls caused the usually dominant Leinster all types of issues in this phase of the game in the semifinal, with Ruan Nortje and Walk Steenkamp both proving to be thorns in the side of the Irish province with their ability to steal the ball.
There are some factors to take into consideration here. The first is that the Stormers are trying to get a waiver to allow for a full crowd as opposed to the 50% capacity currently mandated by the Disaster Management Act. A full – and loud – crowd would be huge for the home side. The other is that heavy rain is predicted for Saturday during the game. If that occurs then the contest may become one of kicking and territory as opposed to ball handling and skills.
If the Bulls match their attitude, tempo, and accuracy from their win in Dublin then it is hard to see how the Stormers beat them (even at home). I like the Bulls’ +1.5 to win outright in a minor upset and claim URC gold.