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How SA teams nullify Irish dominance in URC

SPOTLIGHT: It is clear after three seasons there is certainly no one dominating the United Rugby Championship – and if there was domination, it isn’t coming from the Irish.

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This will be the second year in three that there hasn’t been an Irish finalist and the third year in succession that South Africa will host the Final.

The deciding game is yet to be played outside the Republic after where the Stormers had home-ground advantage on two occasions and now the Bulls.

There has been one Irish team that has won the competition.

Munster managed that when they shocked the Stormers away last year.

However, Munster have also been the only Irish team to appear in a Final since it became the URC.

South Africa have made up four of the six appearances in a Final – the Stormers twice and now the Bulls twice. Scotland have one and Ireland one.

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From a South African viewpoint, it is certainly a far cry from the Super Rugby years, where invariably we watched from afar as usually New Zealand teams faced off or there was a Trans-Tasman face-off.

The Sharks were the beaten finalists in the first year, 1996, and again in 2001, but otherwise, this country had to wait until 2007, when the Sharks and Bulls met in an all-South African Final in Durban, for the first success in that competition.

It was a long weekend, but the crowd that turned up at Loftus was a bit disappointing given the cracking game that the first semifinal was.

In the end, the team that deserved to win on the day did win, leaving mighty Leinster without a trophy for the third successive season.

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The Bulls’ defence had been passive against Benetton the week before, but in this game they stepped up. Defence was the defining characteristic when it came to the winners of both Finals. Munster were dominant in the first half against Glasgow at Thomond Park and for a long time it looked like the predictions of a fairly comfortable Munster win would be proved correct.

However as the game wore on two things were becoming evident – first off, Munster coach Graham Rowntree’s concerns about the slowness of his team’s ball recycling were proving to be well founded, and secondly Glasgow weren’t giving in and their defence was up for it. When they scored an intercept try to take the lead, it was game on, and there was to be no denying Glasgow after that, despite the best intentions of a Munster team that had plenty of opportunities.

The game in Limerick, between two teams that have developed a tetchy rivalry, was as much of a battle, and as bruising as the one at Loftus.

Glasgow’s coach Franco Smith was quick afterwards to acknowledge that recovery from the bruising battle is going to have to be a top priority this week. His team also has to fly, something the Bulls don’t have to do. But he also said there was unfinished business for this team on the highveld.

When Glasgow came here in May they lost to the Bulls and Lions and effectively blew their chance of finishing top of the log. Before that they had been the form team in the competition. They are a better team than those results showed and they will come to Pretoria with a definite chance of winning.

To get to this Final they beat the two previous winners of the URC, the Stormers at home and Munster away. That shows they are no Mickey Mouse team.

This time though, unlike against Leinster, the Bulls’ home-ground advantage will make them clear favourites.

They’ve never lost a play-off game in an international competition at Loftus.

In this episode of Walk the Talk, Jim Hamilton chats with double World Cup winner Damian de Allende about all things Springbok rugby, including RWC2023 and the upcoming Ireland series. Watch now for free on RugbyPass TV

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