South Africa’s welcome pack to Europe: The biggest threat each South African side poses

Jared Wright
Stormers prop steven kitshoff, bulls lock wj steenkamp, and sharks wing werner kok

Planet Rugby continues the build-up to the dawn of a new era in club rugby that sees the Stormers, Bulls, and Sharks join Europe’s elite in the race for the pinnacle of the game at club level, the Champions Cup.

With the addition of the South African sides, we highlight the area of the game where they pose the biggest threat to their opponents. 

Stormers – The Scrum

The Stormers entertained United Rugby Championship fans on their way to a maiden title last season and continue to thrive as an attacking team under the stewardship of John Dobson and the form of newly-capped Springbok Manie Libbok

However, the cliche that forwards win matches and backs decide by how much rings true with the Stormers. The pack undoubtedly lays down the foundation for their success, particularly their scrum. 

The Capetonians are a dominant force in the set-piece, aided by Springbok props Steven Kitshoff and Frans Malherbe, who are renowned for their scrummaging prowess, having won the Rugby World Cup and British and Irish Lions Series. 

The Stormers are an 80-minute threat in the front-row, with the likes of Neethling Fouche and Sazi Sandi rising through the franchise’s tighthead ranks, and the veteran head of Brok Harris operating on both sides. Alistair Vermaak has been a solid option at loosehead behind Kitshoff, while Kwenzo Blose is another promising talent.

In the hooker department, Springbok Joseph Dweba is starting to find his feet after arriving from Bordeaux, while Andre-Hugo Venter has impressed in recent months with Scarra Ntubeni sidelined.

The Stormers will be out to assert their dominance at the set-pieces, and any side unable to match them could spend a lot of time under their poles.

Bulls – Physicality

The Bulls are South Africa’s most successful side, winning three Super Rugby titles, more than any other team. 

Historically, the Pretoria-based side are renowned for their physicality, and when Jake White took over as the team’s director of rugby, he went to work to reinstall that strength. 

Like the Stormers, the Bulls have developed their attacking game plan, but it hinges on their ability to generate front foot ball and quick rucks.

To achieve that, White has pieced together a pack filled with grafters like Ruan Nortje and Marco van Staden and paired them with some hefty abrasive carriers in Elrigh Louw, Johan Grobbelaar, Nizaam Carr and Simphiwe Matanzima.

Those physical forwards have not only made the Bulls achieve a healthy gain line success rate of 60% in the URC this season but also a solid defensive team. 

One thing is clear when it comes to the Bulls; teams will need to front up physically to the Pretoria-based side and then attempt to keep the likes of Kurt-Lee Arendse and Canan Moodie quiet.

Sharks – Unpredictability

It’s been an indifferent season for the Sharks already after four wins from seven URC matches which sees them ranked 10th overall with two games in hand over a few of the teams above them.

However, the Durbanites have an envious squad to select from, with eight Springboks named in their starting lineup to face Harlequins this weekend, including Eben Etzebeth and Siya Kolisi in the pack.

Despite all the talent at their disposal, the Sharks’ biggest threat this season is their unpredictability as they head into the tournament under the guidance of director of rugby Neil Powell, who has taken over the head coach duties from Sean Everitt. 

Powell enjoyed success with the South African sevens team for a decade before joining the Sharks earlier this year and took complete control of the squad last weekend in the win over the Ospreys.

The 44-year-old will be looking to stamp his mark on the team, and with little 15s background to reference, Powell’s side could surprise a few teams with Harlequins and Bordeaux in their group.

If the Sharks can find consistency in their performances, they have the kind of squad that can match any opposition in the competition.

READ MORE: Six South African players to watch this season including exciting playmakers and an enforcer