What a statement it would be for South African rugby if we manage to bring home the United Rugby Championship final in its first year.
I reckon it would be a bitter pill to swallow for our friends from the northern hemisphere if the first ever URC final is played between two SA teams and staged in Mzansi – I’m sure some of them feel as if we don’t even belong in that side of the world in the first place.
They may have a strong argument in that regard, but we are there and we are threatening to steal the show big time.
Let’s start with Friday night’s semi final match between Leinster and the Bulls – the winner of which getting to face either the Stormers or Ulster, who play on Saturday, in the final.
Sidenote: both matches feature SA teams versus Irish teams, meaning it could be an SA v Ireland final, all-Irish final or an all-SA final.
I know which one I want.
Anyway, coach Jake White and his Bulls are being given no chance heading into the Dublin knockout.
Elke Jan Rap en sy maat will tell you they have no kans of upstaging Europe’s second-best club team – only second best because they lost to La Rochelle in the Champions Cup final two weeks ago.
Just look at Leinster’s roster –Johnny Sexton, James Lowe (who I am a big fan of), Tadhg Furlong, Josh van der Flier. Then also think back to the last time they were here in the Mother City when 21-year-old flanker Alex Soroka played as if he was a contender for World Player of the Year. They have a superb squad.
Stormers coach John Dobson mentioned a while ago that one of the other coaches said to him that the best team in the competition is Leinster and the second best team is Leinster’s B-side.
Spoeg uit daai strooi wat jy praat.
Don’t get me wrong – these Irish can play and they can play good rugby. Just ask the Glasgow coach who got sacked after their 70-plus thumping in last week’s quarterfinals.
A good squad gets you to finals – it allows your players to stay fresh while you continue to win.
But when it gets to these crunch games you can only select 23.
And for every Sexton, the Bulls have a Morne Steyn, Furlong you have Bismarck du Plessis who more than matches the experience up front.
They also have the likes of Marcell Coetzee and Cornal Hendricks, who’ve been there and done it.
Add exciting youngsters Kurt-Lee Arendse and Elrigh Louw to the mix and you could easily select a match 23 that could match Leinster on the day.
Let’s not forget that before their capitulation against Benetton in the Rainbow Cup final, it was the Bulls that won every single trophy on offer in South Africa.
I believe they would have learned a helluva lot in that defeat and with a coach like Jake White at the helm, coupled by the underdog tag, I am going out to be bold and predict a Bulls win on Friday.
Forgive me, it’s the heart speaking.
Anyway, onto Saturday. The Stormers didn’t impress me much last week in their quarterfinal win over Edinburgh.
Maybe it’s because they were hit with a bitter blow when Rikus Pretorius got injured in the fourth minute – and understandably their momentum would have been halted a bit, but they just didn’t have the same flow on attack as we’ve become used to.
They are likely to go with Juan de Jongh in the midfield this week and that will in all likelihood force some small tweaks to their style of play.
Still, in a match of this magnitude, I’d expect coach Dobbo to go with him instead of the young Sacha Mngomezulu.
Home advantage and a nine-match unbeaten run makes the Stormers clear favourites against Duane Vermeulen and a Ulster team who believe they’d actually won the last match in Cape Town – the scoreboard says otherwise (23-20 in favour of the Stormers) after Ulster had a last-minute try disallowed.
Either way, the Stormers will have it as tough as the Bulls against the Irish.
And while it’s two completely different battles – with the Stormers arguably having more pressure on them than the Bulls and the Bulls playing with the sort of freedom that comes with the underdog tag – these are the games that define a season.
Just a sidenote and speaking from the heart again and not the head – the Springbok squad has not been named yet. The URC Dream Team has. And in that team, you have five Stormers – the most from any team.
So by that logic, these guys are the best in SA against the best in Ireland.
When last I checked, the William Webb Ellis trophy was safely locked away in our cupboard. So why the big fuss over Irish teams that are collectively ranked fourth in the world?
Yes, it’s not that simple. But let’s run with some false confidence for this weekend and bring an all-SA final to Mzansi. Go South Africa!