'It is mad and magical'
SPOTLIGHT: The North-South derby is, without doubt, the biggest rivalry in South Africa.
It has been since the heady heights of the Currie Cup rivalry between Northern Transvaal and Western Province in the 1970s and 1980s.
The rhapsodic rivalry flowed over into Super Rugby (1993 to 2020) and now the United Rugby Championship – with the teams rebranded as the Bulls and Stormers franchises.
The only change is the season – which once ran from late summer to mid-winter.
Now it is a rivalry, in the URC, that flows over into a fully-fledged summer sport in South Africa.
On Friday the Stormers host the Bulls in Cape Town, the first-ever Christmas derby in this iconic rivalry.
Stormers coach John Dobson admitted he is struggling to “marry the romance of the face-off with the reality of the changes.
“It really does feel strange to be preparing for our greatest North-South derby match with Christmas a few days away,” Dobson said in his weekly column on the team’s website.
“This is foreign territory to us, and I am sure it is the same for Jake White and his group of [Bulls] players.”
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The intensity of the rivalry is epitomised in the URC statmaster’s mid-season report.
They feature very highly in most aspects of the game.
The Stormers scored a try with 52.6 percent of their entries into the opponents’ 22.
The Bulls have scored 10 tries that originated in their own half, the Stormers nine tries in that department.
The Stormers are second with tries scored from first-phase setpiece play. Leinster scored 16 tries from first-phase setpieces (all line-outs) and the Stormers 12 tries (10 line-outs, one line-out steal and one scrum).
The Stormers have scored a try every 200 seconds with the ball in their possession.
However, Friday, in the Cape Town Stadium, those stats will be meaningless.
Playing in December and at Christmas time is going to the norm for SA teams and the supporters.
“For now, it is mentally getting the minds of the players as strong as possible and to be adaptable to playing in temperatures of two degrees in France a fortnight ago in the Champions Cup, and then a fortnight later to be taking on our foes from up north in the United Rugby Championship at home on a Cape Town summer’s night,” Dobson said in his column.
“This was always going to be our biggest challenge in the 2022/23 season, in how we managed players and schedules as the Champions Cup runs concurrently with the United Rugby Championship.
“In simple terms, you don’t prepare for and complete a campaign in the one league, and then prepare for and complete a campaign in the other – the campaigns run together.
“It is as mad as it is magical.
“I am loving it because I can already feel how much I have learned as a coach, in squad selections, in substitutions, in sending the right message to the players and supporters that we want to do well in both competitions and in marrying romance with reality.”