2024 Vodacom Blue Bulls vs DHL Stormers

URC Game Of The Week: Vodacom Bulls Look To Turn Tide Against DHL Stormers

URC Game Of The Week: Vodacom Bulls Look To Turn Tide Against DHL Stormers

The DHL Stormers will travel to face the Vodacom Bulls in Round 11 of the 2023-2024 United Rugby Championship on Saturday. Here is a match preview.

Mar 1, 2024 by Philip Bendon
URC Game Of The Week: Vodacom Bulls Look To Turn Tide Against DHL Stormers

Few fixtures hit as hard in provincial rugby as South Africa’s titanic north vs. south struggle when the Vodacom Bulls and DHL Stormers get together.

They are two blueblood unions with trophies in the cabinet to back up their statuses as South African Rugby’s premier outfits.

Yet, for all of their back-and-forth momentum over the years, it is the Stormers who sit firmly in the ascendancy when it comes to the URC.

Riding a seven-match winning streak against their bitter rivals, the Cape Townians have proven to be the kryptonite to Jake White’s Pretoria men.

Though the record does not make for pretty reading for Bulls fans, the majority of these fixtures have been one-score games that generally have gone down to the wire. 

The cruelest of these losses came in the URC’s inaugural final in 2022, when the Bulls lost 18-13, having already beaten tournament favorite Leinster on the road.

Fast forward two years, and the Bulls could do their title hopes a big favor by seeing off their arch-rivals, who are hovering precariously close to the cutoff spot for a quarterfinal berth.

Entering the weekend in third place on the combined log, the Bulls have a terrific opportunity to stake a claim for an all-important top-2 spot on the table. Given the Glasgow Warriors (second) and Benetton (fourth) will face off this weekend, a win would offer some crucial breathing space for White’s side.

On the flipside, John Dobson’s Stormers will know that being in sixth place on the log leaves them little margin for error when it comes to securing a quarterfinal berth. Putting a positive spin on things, should they knock over the Bulls once again, they could find themselves ending the round inside the top 4.

Words From The Camps

Speaking ahead of this weekend’s fixture, Jake White defended his team’s record against their rivals by heaping praise on Dobson’s men.

“They are without a doubt our best opponent since the competition started,” he said. “The Stormers have played in the final in both seasons (since the URC came into being for the 2021-2022 season).

“We are coming up against a team with a well-established coaching staff, who have been together for a long time and have had a lot of success.

“I don’t worry about how many times we’ve lost because most teams struggle against the Stormers. It’s not something we talk about in the camp.

“They don’t let you do that because their defense is so outstanding.

“This season, we have produced very good performances against formidable teams, such as Saracens and Bordeaux, but we have not yet been able to click against the Stormers.

“Saturday’s game is a great measure to see how we have grown as a team.

“I am convinced that we are now much closer to the hardened and seasoned team we want to be, but we are not close to the complete product.

“We are on our way there, and I am very happy with where we have now compared to two seasons ago.

“Whether it’s succeeding with a penalty when playing time has expired or scoring a try at a critical moment late in a game, it’s something they get right on the clock."

On the other side of the fence, Stormers forwards coach Rito Hlungwani expressed his excited at welcoming back several of the Stormers Springbok players.

“We are very happy to have the Springboks back. We just have to get our cohesion right. That’s continuous improvement; that’s something we want to improve: finding each other better. That’s the one thing we are working hard on,” Hlungwani said.

“It’s a good problem to have, and at the same time, it is tough to leave out certain guys. There are lots of positions that are highly competitive, but it is a good problem to have.

“The level of competition in our team is quite pleasing, so it’s really nice to have Frans back – highly experienced, probably one of the best tightheads in the world.

“That will definitely improve our environment and push Neetas (Neethling Fouché) to improve even more. Whether he (Malherbe) starts or whether he’s on the bench, he will have a role to play, and so will Neethling.

“We’ve also got a few youngsters back in Sazi Sandi and Lee-Marvin Mazibuko, so it’s been a fight at training for everyone to prove themselves.

“It’s very tough (at lock as well) because Ruben (van Heerden) and Adré (Smith) have been doing really well. But we also know the level and standards that Salmaan brings to the table.

“Having Salmaan back has just raised the temperature a bit more, and hopefully, that will help us get a little bit more out of Adré and Ruben and also get him to chase hard again to get his position back.”

Key Battle

As ever with a South African derby, the battle of the forward packs is going to be ferocious, and, in this department, there is little to pick between the two sides.

Front and center to this arm wrestle are two terrifically well-balanced backrows who will be the heartbeat of their teams.

For the Stormers, Springboks veteran Deon Fourie is joined by fellow Bok Evan Roos and the explosive Hacjivah Dyaimani.

The ageless wonder at 37 years old, Fourie remains arguably the best fetcher in South African Rugby and will cause the Bulls all sorts of headaches if they do not resource the breakdown properly.

Complimenting Fourie, Roos is a heavy hitter and a powerhouse carrier that adds size to the Stormer's backrow, while Dyaimani is a lethal carrier who is the ultimate No. 8 link player.

Facing this trio, the Bulls have opted for a monster combination of Springbok duo Marcell Coetzee and Marco van Staden. The two bring a hard edge to the Bulls pack and will be bone collecting Saturday afternoon as they look to shut down the up-tempo Stormers attack.

Completing this group is the highly touted 21-year-old Reinhardt Ludwig, who brings with him a unique skillset as a line-out jumper and roaming ball carrier. Though he very much is in the early stages of his career, Ludwig is one to watch and will be tasked with disrupting the Stormer's line-out ball at the source.


In rugby, the concept of a ‘bogey team’ is not just some far-fetched thought, but as is evidenced by several head-to-heads the world over, a very real dynamic.

Making the case for a Bulls victory, given what has gone before, is a challenging argument. However, of all the Bulls teams since 2022, this one feels the most well equipped to deal with the Stormers.

Up front, the Bulls appear, at least on paper, to be a bit more heavyweight, which should help them drag the Stormers into a set-piece battle. While in the backline, the return of Kurt-Lee Arendse and Canan Moodie on the wings, with Willie Le Roux on the bench, gives them so much-needed firepower to match their coastal rivals.

The challenge for the Bulls will be how much they can limit the clean ball the Stormers players get. 

In World Rugby, there are few players better with time and space than Manie Libbok and Damian Williams. The World Cup-winning duo can win a match on their own if given half a sniff, and as such, the Bulls will need to get in their faces and ruffle a few feathers, which certainly is easier said than done.

In front of what will be a sold-out Loftus Versfeld, the Stormers will want to silence the home support early, and in this department, Libbok’s goal-kicking will be under the microscope once again.

For what feels at best a coin flip game, the Bulls will turn the tide on their rivals in what will be their statement win of the 2023-2024 season to date. Bulls by 3.

Join The Rugby Conversation On FloRugby Social