URC derbies to define SA teams’ season

The four local teams face back-to-back matches against each other which could go a long way in determining how things unfold over the rest of the season.

The South African United Rugby Championship teams face a potentially season-defining next two rounds of the competition as massive derby clashes should play a major role on where these sides finish on the log at the end of the campaign.

Next weekend the Lions host the Bulls at Ellis Park in the second straight cross-Jukskei derby, while the Sharks welcome the Stormers to Durban. Then, on the first weekend of March it will be the Lions against Sharks in Johannesburg and Stormers hosting the Bulls in Cape Town.

It is exactly halfway through the season and it is the Bulls who are leading the way for the SA franchises at fourth on the log on 30 points, four off the table-topping Leinster team.

They are thus the best-placed SA team going into the second half of the competition, but due to the congested nature of the log if just one result goes against them it could change the whole complexion of their season.

Sharks

The Stormers are seventh on the log on 26 points, while the Lions are 10th on 24, as the next two best placed SA sides, while the Sharks are rock bottom on nine points.

Having won one and lost eight games the Sharks are most likely out of the running to make the URC knockouts this season, even if they do manage to turn their fortunes around over the second half of the season.

However, they could still have a big impact in how their fellow South African sides fare if they managed to come into some form.

Heading into next weekend’s games it is arguably the Lions who will be under the most pressure as they know a second straight loss to the Bulls will leave them further off the top eight and will make the following Sharks game a must-win ahead of a tough two game European tour after that.

The Bulls and Stormers both have some leeway if they were to lose next weekend, but if they did it would make the following clash between the two extremely important as they will both want to keep up with the higher placed teams on the log.

Both the Bulls and Stormers will be targeting a top four finish, so they will both be going all out in their games next weekend, and they will both be favourites, even though they will be playing away from home.

Their clash at Loftus Versfeld, however, will be a very interesting one, as based on form this season the Bulls should be slight favourites for that game, but they have been unable to break their hoodoo against the Stormers so far, losing seven games in a row and that could play a defining role in their psyche.