VIDEO: The rivalry that keeps the South African game strong
Domestic rivalry is what kept the game strong during the isolation years, but there is one indigenous face-off that stands above all in South Africa.
Friday’s United Rugby Championship encounter may not determine the destiny of the competition, but it is a vital cog for the game in the Republic.
Since the birth of the Northern Transvaal (now the Bulls) their competition with Western Province (and the Stormers) has evolved into the biggest and most intense conflict in the game.
As the late Dr Danie Craven once said: ‘When Western Province is strong and Northern Transvaal is strong, South African rugby is strong.’
That is why so many pundits are celebrating the revival of the BIG North-South derbies.
“I think it’s brilliant for South African rugby,” Stormers coach John Dobson told a media briefing in the build-up to the Cape Town contest.
“I feel it [the rivalry is back], and I think we all do.
“There was a while when we [the Stormers\WP] had fallen away. [Then it was a rivalry between] the Sharks versus Bulls and maybe 20 years ago the Lions versus the Sharks.
“Then us [WP] against the Sharks became [the main rivalry] when we played all those Currie Cup Finals against each other.
“This feels like back to the proper stuff and it does feel like there is a lot of spice in it.”
He added that it is “great” for the game in the Republic.
“It came up again when Jake came in and did such a good job of rebuilding the Bulls and they won two Currie Cups in one year.
“Things started developing over social media.
“Then we got a couple of narrow wins [including the 2021/22 URC final] and it’s been building up over a while.
“It’s clear what this game means for the Bulls, too, by the fact they rested players in the Champions Cup.
“It’s their plan for the season and I can’t argue with that, but it’s clear how much this game means to them and it’s also incredibly important to us.
“This game could be played in any tournament and it would mean a lot, because that rivalry is back.”
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Bulls Director of Rugby Jake White, a self-confessed coach of ‘old-school values’, also felt it was great that the rivalry has regained its former “glorious aura”.
“It is fantastic that the North-South derby is competitive,” he said in the build-up to Friday’s contest.
“You want to ensure derby games stay derby games forever, otherwise one of the teams has fallen by the wayside.
“There is no doubt that the North-South derby is alive and well.
“It is not going to get any easier the more they challenge each other with the squads they have.
“I am honoured to be part of this derby game.
Despite the rise in the prominence and status of the derby, Dobson dismissed the notion that it has become a ‘Dobson v White’ storyline.
“That’s a media construct,” he said of the supposed coaching rivalry.
“The first fact about it is that we are a coaching team,” he said of his assistants – which include Dawie Snyman (backs and attack), Norman Laker (defence), Rito Hlungwani (forwards) and Labeeb Levy (skills).
“It’s not Dobbo against Jake for one second,” Dobson added.
“The coaching staff puts in a lot of sweat out there.
“The other aspect is that before the current [three-match] run that we lost four or five in a row against the Bulls.
“That [three-nil] record is just in the URC.
“That is not of any consequence at all in our minds.
“We are a really tight coaching unit [at the Stormers]
“This is not John Dobson against Jake White.”