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'I know these teams want to win' - The South African view on the URC

Former Springbok captain Bobby Skinstad says South Africans are optimistic about the new tournament.

The Bulls take on Leinster this Saturday.
The Bulls take on Leinster this Saturday.
Image: Elena Barbini/INPHO

THE CELTIC LEAGUE, the Magners League, the RaboDirect, the Pro12, the Pro14, the Rainbow Cup, and now, the United Rugby Championship. Hopefully, this latest incarnation of a league that has never really settled into its own skin is here to stay.

By now, we all know what the four Irish provinces hope to glean from this latest new dawn – a more competitive league, which in turns drives standards, quality, and fans through turnstiles. 

But what is the feeling among rugby supporters in South Africa, where four teams – the Bulls, Sharks, Stormers and Lions – are preparing to step into the unknown having cut their ties with Super Rugby?

“I think the fans have absolutely embraced it,” says Bobby Skinstad, the former Springbok captain and 2007 World Cup winner.

“I had a long conversation this weekend with my brother and some family members, talking about the games we’re excited to take in (in Europe). We (South African rugby supporters) haven’t been able to do that except around Test matches in the last 20 years, so it’s great for fans.

“I was chatting to Matthew Pearce, who does commentary for a lot of the Springbok matches, and he was saying there is tremendous excitement (among South African players), because the young players feel it’s a chance for them to showcase their skills on the international stage, and the older players feel that there is now an increase in the number of markets they can get to to show their wares.

“I think that’s what most exciting for me, (the fact that) the players are excited.”

Yet despite the excitement around the new league, it’s going to be a while before we get a clear idea of how the URC is shaping up as a competition. The four South African sides head into the season without their Springbok internationals, handing the likes of Leinster and Munster – who both play South African opposition this weekend – a major advantage in the early rounds.

Furthermore, some of those South African teams arrive to the URC in worrying condition. 

The Stormers’ place in the competition is reportedly under threat already as they battle major financial issues, while the Lions – Super Rugby finalists three years running between 2016 and 2018 – have suffered a massive decline in recent years.

With that in mind, the Sharks and the Bulls – fresh from an impressive Currie Cup success – look best equipped to provide the quality this league so desperately craves. 

“It’s a long season, nobody is hiding from that,” Skinstad says.

If you look at the teams that have lost a few players to the Springboks, they’re going to have a slightly slower start because those players won’t be with them, but they are the traditional strong teams of South African rugby, so no-one is going to be saying we can’t compete.

“Nobody in the Bulls or the Lions or the Sharks will be saying we can’t compete at a domestic level because they have big squads and good players who have come through.

“There are some quality players coming through and then you shore that up with the Springbok players coming back.

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“I think they’ll all make a good go of it. I think the teams that get an injection of Springboks coming back, starting loose forwards like Siya Kolisi, will go and help the Sharks side that he recently joined. 

“Jake White [Bulls coach] is going to pick a team that is going to be competitive, it doesn’t matter where he is playing in the world, because that’s his nature. 

“They know they need to start well and all the coaches I’ve spoken to realise that their younger players who are going to be playing international rugby later on are now going to be really tested on a week by week basis, which is exactly what you want. 

“I know these teams want to win, so you’re going to see world class Springboks in the starting lineups. That’s how you’re going to win the tournament.” 

Bernard Jackman, Murray Kinsella and Gavan Casey look ahead to the inaugural United Rugby Championship, and a massive weekend for Ireland in their bid to qualify for the Women’s Rugby World Cup.


Source: The42 Rugby Weekly/SoundCloud

About the author:

Ciarán Kennedy

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