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VIDEO: Road to the play-offs for Bulls & Stormers

The United Rugby Championship play-offs are still a month away, but South Africa’s franchises are already in a ‘must-win’ mode ahead of the last three rounds of league action.

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Retired World Cup winner Schalk Brits said for the two leading South African teams – Bulls and Stormers – playing at home in the play-offs is vital if they harbour any ambitions of winning the URC.

England-born and Scotland-capped loose forward Ryan Wilson, a confessed enthusiast of the Stormers’ style, believes the top four will not be unseated.

Ahead of Round 16, Wilson’s Glasgow Warriors top the standings with 58 points – ahead of Leinster (54), Munster (53) and the Bulls (51).

The chasing pack of play-off candidates are headed by the fifth-placed Stormers (45), followed by Connacht (44), Ulster (44), Benetton (44), Edinburgh (43), Ospreys (40) and the Lions (39).

This Saturday (May 11), the Bulls host the table-topping Glasgow Warriors at Loftus Versfeld – followed by a home game against Benetton (May 18) and then travel to Durban to face the Sharks at Kings Park on June 1.

This week’s game is a 14.00 kick-off, with altitude (1,350 metres above sea level) and the heat (predicted to be about 32°C at kick-off) major factors.

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“That makes it very hard to play the Bulls there,” Brits said of the Loftus factor.

By the time they face the Sharks – who will be in a Challenge Cup Final face-off against Gloucester on May 24 – the opposition may not be at full strength and the Bulls will be rested.

“They are playing Glasgow this weekend at home and that is the big game,” the retired Springbok World Cup winner told @rugby365com during a URC media round table event.

(WATCH as two retired players – World Cup winner Schalk Brits and Scotland veteran Ryan Wilson – analyse the URC chances of the two leading South African franchises….)

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“For them to lose this one would be massive.

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“It’s going to be quite hot and humid at altitude in Pretoria, which makes it hard to play the Bulls there.

“Jake White is a coach that likes momentum and will want to build momentum going into the play-off games.

“I like where the Bulls are sitting.”

The Stormers – who travel to Newport this week to face the Dragons and then play Connacht at the Sportsground in Galway – have a much tougher challenge.

They complete their fixtures with a home game against the Lions, a team that is also desperate for a top-eight finish and a place in Europe’s premier division next season.

Not having won a single game abroad this season, the Cape Town franchise has their work cut out for them.

Ryan Wilson, with more than 220 appearances for Glasgow Warriors and 50 Scotland caps, said he ‘loves watching’ the Stormers.

“They have been exciting to watch, with that back three,” he told @rugby365com, adding: “But they have been hit and miss.

“They have also not travelled that well.”

He put his money on the top four to stay as they are to the end – Glasgow, Leinster, Munster and the Bulls.

“There will be so much movement from fifth to 11th,” the 34-year-old said, adding: “All those teams play each other.

“It is going to be an exciting end to the season.”

Brits is not so convinced about the Stormers’ prospects.

“The Stormers are making mistakes in crucial moments,” he added.

“Although they have lots of talent, sometimes you just need experience, the cooler heads and then you make better decisions.

“For me, rugby is about compounding pressure.

“When With more experienced players on the pitch, you tend to make better decisions with pressure.

“They have had injuries in one or two crucial positions and some crucial kicks haven’t gone over, but that’s just how the cookie crumbles.

“With them playing abroad for the next two weeks, it’s a bit harder.”

Yet Brits takes heart from the Stormers having reached the URC final for the past two seasons, lifting the trophy in 2022.

“What John Dobson has done is bring happiness to Cape Town.

“The players are having a good time,” he added.

“I would rather let them be average during the year and get to the final and win a trophy, than be great all year and not win anything.”

@king365ed
@rugby365com

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