The four South African sides have finally shown what they’re capable of in the third round of the United Rugby Championship.
The former Super Rugby sides’ performances in the opening two rounds of the URC will have worried fans and tournament organisers about their ability to raise the standard of the competition, but they now seem to have gotten to grips with rugby in the northern hemisphere.
The Sharks got their first win of the tournament with a 27-13 victory over the Ospreys in Swansea on Friday, while the Bulls got off the mark with a 29-19 win against Cardiff, having trailing by 13 points at half time.
The Stormers are still without a win, but they did fight to a 20-all draw against Edinburgh, while the Lions were narrowly beaten by Glasgow Warriors, partially thanks to an incorrectly awarded try.
Nonetheless, all four South African sides shown positive signs in their games this weekend and now have something to build on after a dreadful opening two rounds.
Improvements in weather and discipline played their part.
Stormers head coach John Dobson admitted during the week that his side were struggling to adapt to the law interpretations being used in the URC, compared to what his players were used to in South Africa.
Dobson’s side started strongly against Munster last weekend, but a yellow card to Salmaan Moerat early in the second half swung the momentum in the Irish side’s favour, with further penalties damaging the side’s ambitions.
Bulls head coach Jake White has also admitted to struggling with the law interpretations, while he also commented on the difficult weather conditions that his side had to endure in Galway against Connacht.
While the weather conditions in Wales and Scotland this week weren’t quite what South Africans may be used to, the lack of rain and wind will have certainly helped them.
Their discipline across the board has also improved, as the Sharks gave away just seven penalties – one more than the Ospreys, the Lions conceded just six penalties – seven less than opponents Glasgow, while the Stormers and Edinburgh each gave away 11 penalties.
Discipline is still an area that the Bulls need to work on, as they gave away 15 penalties against Cardiff, but they were much improved in other areas as they were finally able to impose their size and physicality on northern opposition.
Thank u so much for Cell C sharks for the support🙌🏻🙌🏻🙌🏻💪🏻💪🏻Much respect💪🏻💪🏻💪🏻💪🏻 pic.twitter.com/wdgvJMgbRM
— Marcell Coetzee (@marcell_coetzee) October 9, 2021
South Africans may have to wait until 2022 before hosting European sides.
While it was a largely positive weekend for the South African sides in the URC, reports from the Rainbow Nation suggest that they will not play at home until next year.
South Africa was recently taken off the UK’s red list for travel, but Afrikaans publication Rapport have said that URC chiefs have determined that the changes came too late for them to alter plans to base the teams in Italy.
Each of the South African teams were due to welcome European opposition to their home stadiums in rounds six and seven in November and December, but it now appears that those games will take place in Italy.
While sizeable home crowds were unlikely to be allowed to attend any games in South Africa due to the country’s current health guidelines, they will have been hoping to return home nonetheless.
The Bulls and Lions in particular play better at home, due to the high altitude which visiting teams struggle to adapt to, but it now looks like they will be spending even more time in Europe.