South African URC teams: Opinion on 2023 results

South African United Rugby Championship teams

The South African URC teams were a little below par in 2023 compared to expectations, with the exception of the Stormers. The Stormers hosted their second consecutive final and fell short against Munster.

We consider the overall performance of the South African URC teams using their standings in the final table after the league stage was completed.

South African URC teams in the 2022/3 competition

We make general comments about recruitment but have not delved too deeply into the subject. The player market is still volatile and South Africa might yet attract players from Europe looking for employment. Although the Rand is a weak currency, being able to continue or revive a career and still be in a reasonable time zone and distance from home could still be appealing.

The local salary cap has been raised by 26%, helping the South African URC teams to bolster their squads. They have also been allowed to employ four marquee players outside of the salary cap.

DHL Stormers – 3rd overall

The Stormers ended with an overall record of played 18 won 12 drew two and lost four. For the second year, they are the leading light of South Africa’s URC campaign. There isn’t too much that can be said about the Stormers other than well done. They will sorely miss Stephen Kitshoff in next year’s competition as he departs for Ulster. Coach John Dobson will be tinkering with his squad. Cheslin Kolbe was in their sights, but Japan does appear to be his next destination after being released from his contract with Toulon. The Stormers lost out as their highest bid was R15mil. Offers out of Japan came in at R22mil. There are rumours that the Stormers will be looking to attract some of their former players. Warrick Gelant, Dillyn Leyds, JD Schickerling and Edwill van der Merwe are the most likely candidates. Springbok loosehead prop Lizo Gqoboka has been confirmed, joining from the Bulls.

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Vodacom Bulls – 6th overall

The Bulls final result was played 18 won ten and lost eight. They will be kicking themselves for a horrific run of losses in both the URC and Currie Cup. The jury is out on whether there was an issue within the camp that resulted in a complete lack of momentum at the Union. Aside from this, the Bulls campaign was also hampered by a lack of senior Springboks. The quality and experience were simply not there. They have been working away at signing players for their next campaign. They have also been working on attracting some of their previous stars back to Loftus, along with a few new signings. Examples are Jannes Kirsten and Henry Immelman.

Cell C Sharks – 8th overall

The Sharks ended the regular season with a record of 18 played, won nine, drew one and lost eight. This is another disappointing campaign for a team with such rich playing resources. The Kings Park faithful will pin some hope that returning Head Coach John Plumtree will be able to mold the squad into the competitive team at the back end of the competition that they should be. Springbok prop Coenie Oosthuizen rejoins from Sale Sharks. Springbok captain Siya Kolisi leaves to join Racing 92 in France.

Plumstead’s return will allow stand-in Head Coach, Neil Powell, to focus on his actual job – Director of Rugby. The roles are very different. An example can be found here.

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Emirates Lions – 9th overall

The Lions regular season result was played 18, won nine lost nine. That 50/50 result probably describes their season. A bit good. A bit bad. They showed some enterprise especially in unstructured play, relying on natural talent. Their main downfall was their error rate. Handling errors has been a significant issue, often halting promising attacks. Falling off tackles also cost them a lot on the scoreboard.

It would be very easy to blame the players or coach. The scoreboard is what is visible to the fans. What isn’t visible is what is going on in the business that supports the game on the field. The Lions are no strangers to tough seasons. They were relegated from Super Rugby and returned with a bang to play in three consecutive finals. Why are they back in the position of lagging behind the other three South African URC teams?

There have been murmurs of dissatisfaction within both the playing and administration ranks at Emirates Airline Park. The constant churn of playing, coaching and administrative staff has to be a concern. There is a lot to be said for developing a positive and inclusive corporate and playing squad culture. Will that happen under the current leadership?

Summarizing the South African URC teams performance in 2023

Each team was probably one notch below where they were last year. That is no disaster and is fairly common in the second year of participation in most competitions. The South African teams have added a lot to the URC and have helped to grow popularity, attendance as well as viewership of games. The move North has certainly been worth it.

Main photo credit: The Stormers