Cookie Consent by Skip to main content

Springboks great Schalk Burger believes bowing out of Europe could prove to be a blessing in disguise for the South African sides when it comes to the Vodacom United Rugby Championship play-offs.

All four Vodacom URC teams from the Rainbow Nation made it through to the knock-out stages of the EPCR events, but they all then went down to defeats away from home, leaving no representatives in the semi-finals.

Last weekend’s quarter-finals saw the DHL Stormers and the Cell C Sharks lose 42-17 and 54-20 to Exeter and Toulouse respectively in the Champions Cup, while the Emirates Lions were beaten 31-21 by Glasgow in the Challenge Cup, with the Vodacom Bulls having gone down 33-7 to Toulouse in the last 16 of the elite event.

While admitting that has been a disappointment, Burger believes it will allow them to focus fully on the Vodacom URC, amid the potential prospect of them all making it through to the play-offs.

The second-placed DHL Stormers are already assured of their spot as they bid to defend the title, while the Vodacom Bulls and Cell C Sharks are currently in the top eight, with the Emirates Lions only three points off the play-offs. Plus they all play their remaining two regular season games at home.

Reflecting on the teams’ first taste of EPCR rugby, the 86-cap Burger said: “It’s disappointing we are not in Europe any more, especially how comprehensively our sides lost at the weekend.

“But this might be a bit of a blessing in disguise for our squads because I feared their Vodacom URC campaigns would have suffered as a consequence if they had got through to the EPCR semi-finals. So maybe this is good for us.

“This actually benefits our squads in terms of the Vodacom URC. We are a little bit thinner spread than some of the powerhouses up north and it’s the first year we have done both. Last year, we were privileged where we only had to focus on the Vodacom URC.”

Speaking on a Vodacom URC round table, the former back row star continued: “The EPCR was a challenge for us. It was something new.

“I think the players were really excited to play in Europe against different opposition they don’t usually play against. I think they really embraced it.

“A lot has been made about the travel, but I don’t think it was an excuse in the Stormers case. They could have flown there by spaceship and I still think they would have come up short against an Exeter side who bossed the ball. We can’t blame travel for the performance.”

Looking ahead to Round 17 of the Vodacom URC this weekend, Burger believes both the Cell C Sharks and the Vodacom Bulls will pick up bonus point wins at home to Benetton and Zebre Parma  respectively to cement their play-off spots.

“The Bulls are going through a horrid streak under Jake White, so there is a lot of pressure in the camp. The main issue has been defence, but there is quality within that squad,” he said.

Turning to Saturday’s encounter between the Emirates Lions and Leinster in Johannesburg, he expects the table-topping visitors from Ireland to maintain their unbeaten record in the competition.

“There is just too much quality in the Leinster side, they are so consistent. They are my favourite side to watch because their emphasis is always on scoring tries,” he said.

“The Lions will have some magnificent moments, but they don’t have enough quality to keep it there for 80 minutes. They will have soft moments and those moments are when Leinster will pounce, so I see the Lions going down.”

As for the Cape Town clash between his former side, the DHL Stormers, and Munster, Burger is anticipating a tight affair.

“This is a big one. The weather looks set to be perfect for the weekend and it’s going to be a good crowd,” he said.

“Munster are going to be a force to be reckoned with. They have got a good squad coming up. It’s everyone, it’s hand on deck. The Stormers might be in trouble this weekend.

“I think Munster are going to run us super close. I have got to back the DHL Stormers, but they will be put under pressure and I have a feeling it’s going to be super tight.”

Lastly, giving his verdict on the likely title winners, Burger predicted: “I think it’s going to be Leinster hosting the final this year. I’d go for the Stormers to make it back-to-back finals, but to fall short in the final.”

Leave a Reply