United Rugby Championship: Six head-to-heads to watch in the South African derbies including Marco van Staden v Deon Fourie

David Skippers
Five SA head-to-heads to watch image URC 2023.jpg

Ahead of Saturday’s derbies between the South African sides in Round 14 of the United Rugby Championship (URC), we take a closer look at some of the battles which could decide the outcome of the respective matches.

South African derbies are renowned for being physical and uncompromising battles, and we expect these encounters to be no different. We’ve highlighted six crucial duels which should have an impact on the end result in their respective fixtures. The list, though, could have gone on.

Bulls v Stormers

Marco van Staden v Deon Fourie

Although there will be numerous mouth-watering individual battles across the park when the Bulls host the Stormers in their North/South derby in Pretoria, the duel between these Springbok tearaways is highly anticipated, and whoever comes out on top should also finish on the winning side.

The duo are renowned for their breakdown skills, and both will be at the forefront in that department for their respective teams. Van Staden and Fourie are amongst the tournament’s star performers when it comes to turnovers won, with the Bulls flanker currently ranked joint first – with Cardiff’s Thomas Young – in that facet of play (14), while Fourie is joint sixth – with Ulster’s Marcus Rea – after making 10 steals.

Apart from their breakdown work, these two world-class back-rows are also excellent ball carriers and defenders, so don’t be surprised if they go at each other hammer and tongs when on the attack or defence as well.

Chris Smith v Manie Libbok

The fly-half battle in any match is huge, but there will be extra pressure on Smith and Libbok as they will be expected to lead the way from the outset with their excellent playmaking skills, solid game management and accurate goal-kicking.

Libbok has been like a breath of fresh air for the champions since joining them from the Sharks in 2021. He is of course, also a former Bulls player, which means he will be highly motivated to get the better of his former team, but he faces a tough assignment against Smith, who is a vital cog in the home side’s machine.

Libbok comes into this encounter as the URC‘s leading points-scorer, with 121 points amassed so far this season, but Smith is next best – just 26 points adrift – and the Bulls pivot will be determined to narrow that gap. It sets the scene for what should be a fascinating battle between two highly skilled number playmakers.

Sbu Nkosi v Suleiman Hartzenberg

Our final showdown from the highly anticipated clash at Loftus Versfeld pits a 2019 Rugby World Cup winner against one of the rising stars of the South African game.

Both are excitement machines who can change the course of a match with their brilliant attacking ability, and they will be highly motivated to do well.

All eyes will be on Nkosi, who is set to make his first appearance of the year for the Bulls. The 27-year-old hit the headlines at the end of last year when was absent without leave for three weeks as he dealt with mental health issues.

Nkosi will be expected to hit the ground running but faces a tough adversary in Hartzenberg, who has been one of the Stormers’ success stories this season. The 19-year-old possesses plenty of speed, quick feet and an astute rugby brain. Despite his young age, he plays with maturity beyond his years and will be eager to test himself against a top-class wing like Nkosi.

Lions v Sharks

Marius Louw v Rohan Janse van Rensburg

Old meets new in the battle of the 12s at Ellis Park, with Louw’s move from the Sharks to the Lions making way for the arrival of Janse van Rensburg in Durban.

Louw has shone since moving to the Lions and quickly moved into a leadership position at the club. Outside of his standing in the dressing room, the centre has been brilliant with the ball in hand, providing go-forward ball for his team to work with whilst also using his offloading skill set to link up with teammates. He is the skipper on Saturday, and it is going to be a massive task against a fantastic opponent.

Janse van Rensburg faces his former club and comes into the game in solid form. The Springbok is a brutal ball carrier and looks to have settled well with the Sharks, powering their play with aplomb when on the field. Deceptively pacey for his size, Janse van Rensburg is a challenging player to defend against and no doubt he will keep Louw honest all day in Johannesburg.

Morne van den Berg v Grant Williams

Two nines meet as the livewire Van den Berg looks to try to get a grip on the starting spot for the Lions, with Sanele Nohamba there and thereabouts in the last while. However, Van den Berg is exceptional in his distribution and controls the pace well, particularly when rushing opposition defensive lines with quick ball.

Meanwhile, Springbok Williams is lightning fast and has a similar philosophy to his opponent this week, except the main difference is that the Shark is more than happy to take on defensive lines with his pace, be it through a quick tap or a snipe. It’s obvious why Williams is viewed as a future superstar because he has all the tools.

Livewire meets pure pace in an enthralling battle on Saturday for fans to feast their eyes on.

READ MORE: URC: Sbu Nkosi back for Bulls’ derby against Stormers while Lloyd Williams to break Cardiff appearance record