Jacques van der Westhuyzen

By Jacques van der Westhuyzen

Head of Sport

Five things to look out for in this weekend’s two URC SA derbies

Several players called up to the Springbok alignment camp will be in action in Joburg and Pretoria.

When the United Rugby Championship resumes this weekend, the Lions will host the Sharks (3pm) and the Bulls will entertain the Stormers (5.05pm) in two local derbies on Saturday.

Here The Citizen looks at five things to look out for in these two big match-ups.

Players called up to Bok alignment camp

The first Springbok alignment camp of the year takes place from Monday in Cape Town, ahead of the 2024 international season.

Forty-three players will be at the camp and many of them will be going all out this weekend to make a big impression. Here one thinks of the close to 20 rookie players who’ll be in a Bok setup for the first time, among them Sanele Nohamba, Quan Horn, Marnus van der Merwe, Celimpilo Gumede, Cameron Hanekom, Jan-Hendrik Wessels and Suleiman Hartzenberg, among a host of others.

Also, several 2023 World Cup winners will be in action, some of them for the first time since the win in France last year.

You can be sure coach Rassie Erasmus and Co will be keeping a close eye on how these players perform in Joburg and Pretoria.

Frans Malherbe
Bok World Cup winner Frans Malherbe is set to be back for the Stormers this weekend. Picture: Ben Evans/Huw Evans Agency/Gallo Images

Players who didn’t make Bok cut

As always when national squads are named and players picked for groups there are always the unlucky ones who miss out. And just as much as those who have been chosen want to impress, those who’ve missed out also want to show what they can do.

Experienced Bulls hooker Akker van der Merwe is one such player. Though he’s played for the Boks before and has a wealth of experience he hasn’t received a call-up to the Bok camp.

Johan Goosen, too, might feel, he should have got a look-in, while Lions prop Asenathi Ntlabakanye will also want to show Erasmus and Co he is a player worth looking at for the future.

There are other players, too, who’ll feel let down by not being picked now.

Asenathi Ntlabakanye
Lions prop Asenathi Ntlabakanye, right, has been in good form this season. Picture: Gordon Arons/Gallo Images

Bulls’ record against Stormers

Do the Stormers have a mental hold on the Bulls or are the men from the Cape simply better and stronger? Or, is it just a matter of it being sport and on the day the Stormers have come out on top?

Whatever it is the Stormers hold a 7-0 win record against the Bulls in the United Rugby Championship, something Bulls boss Jake White and the players will be desperate to change this weekend. No team likes losing, but when you’ve been unable to beat one of your oldest and fiercest rivals in a competition it hurts that much more.

The Bulls now have a golden opportunity to finally stop the Stormers’ winning run, as they’re at home and likely to be playing in front of a big crowd cheering them on. Also, they’ve been in great form this season and should back themselves to take this one.

Sharks’ dismal run this season

Where to next for the Sharks? Do they even have the desire still to play in the URC this season?

It has been a dismal campaign by the men from Durban, with coach John Plumtree and his charges simply unable to get any sort of momentum or winning streak going, which has hampered the players’ confidence and halted the team’s progress.

They have won one match in 10 outings – a record that simply is not good enough. Plumtree and Co will be desperate to register another win, and try get some confidence back ahead of the remainder of the campaign and the Challenge Cup to come.

But, their opponents, the Lions, will be just as keen to bag the win as they go into the match on the back of four straight defeats in all competitions. Who’ll stand up and deliver?

Sharks rugby players
It’s been a URC season to forget for the Sharks. Picture: Sam Barnes/Gallo Images

The crowds

A lot has been said about the fabulous crowds that turned out in Cape Town and Durban over the festive season to cheer on the rugby action, but can the fans in Pretoria and Joburg show up in their numbers as well?

Loftus Versfeld has had some good crowds recently and even Ellis Park saw a good number turn out two weeks ago, but this weekend’s numbers will be telling.

Loftus is looking to sell out and hit the 50,000 mark which, if achieved, would be fantastic, so let’s see what happens. The North-South derby is always a big one, but this one seems to be heading towards being epic.

And while the Sharks have fans all over the country and a strong following, will they show up at Ellis Park to cheer their team on, especially with the Durbanites on the backfoot at the moment? But it really is the Lions fans who need to show up at home to cheer on their team.

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