UNITED RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP: SA contenders must make their own luck in northern hemisphere as Irish endgame looms

UNITED RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP: SA contenders must make their own luck in northern hemisphere as Irish endgame looms

South Africa’s strongest contenders find themselves needing a miracle or two to win the United Rugby Championship (URC) title.

Although the quarterfinal in Cape Town will allow either the Stormers or the Bulls to build some momentum before the most challenging phase of the knockouts, the odds are against a South African team cracking on to win a semifinal and final in northern hemisphere conditions.

In one sense, this is where South African teams want to be.

The Springboks were written off before the 2019 World Cup final, yet went on to smash an overconfident England side by 20 points. Most expected Leinster to hammer the Bulls in last year’s semifinal staged in Dublin, yet it was the Bulls who dominated to claim a memorable victory.

With this in mind, some might look at the upcoming URC playoffs, as well as all the predictions for an Irish champion, and declare that the conditions are conducive to another South African ambush. 

Werner Kok of the Cell C Sharks. (Photo: Gallo Images)

No longer under the radar

And yet, so much has changed since last season. South Africa’s teams aren’t flying under the radar any longer. The Bulls, Sharks and Stormers all made an early exit from the Champions Cup playoffs, but are unlikely to be under­estimated by their Irish counterparts in the coming URC knockouts.

Leinster, who dominated the previous version of the URC, will be determined to show all and sundry who’s boss after last year’s disappointment. Ulster, who lost to the Stormers in last year’s semifinal in Cape Town, will be out for revenge.

The Bulls, Stormers and Sharks, who will travel to Dublin for the quarterfinals, will have to make their own luck in playoff matches abroad. They will need to alter their tactics to account for the wind and the rain, as well as the unique style of refereeing. 

SA collective’s 34% win rate overseas

Traditionally, home teams have had a signi­ficant advantage in these European tournaments. The addition of the South African teams in recent years has amplified the challenge for travelling teams, and as the stats show, most teams continue to struggle when they leave their country or hemisphere.

Across all European rugby and URC matches played in the northern hemisphere this season, the five SA franchises have combined for a dismal win record of 14 in 41 matches. No team won in Ireland across the URC league stage, although the Stormers secured a draw when they played an understrength Leinster in Dublin earlier this year.

The Bu

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