The Stormers in a team huddle SA teams

The Stormers in a team huddle. Photo: Andrew SURMA/ SIPA USA.

Travel to blame for SA teams’ northern hemisphere flop?

Schalk Burger believes travel troubles can’t be used as an excuse after SA’s franchises endured a poor run of results overseas.

The Stormers in a team huddle SA teams

The Stormers in a team huddle. Photo: Andrew SURMA/ SIPA USA.

On Saturday, both the Stormers and Sharks crashed out of the Heineken Champions Cup after being outplayed by the Exeter Chiefs and Toulouse respectively. To complete a poor weekend for SA sides, the Lions were then knocked out of the EPCR Challenge Cup by the Glasgow Warriors.

South Africa’s four URC rugby franchises will clearly need a new approach – a rethink – of their strategy when it comes to European competitions next season, with the travel factor – which included some delays and economy class restrictions – flagged by some as a major factor in the disappointing knockout results.

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Ultimately, though, former Springbok and Stormers star Schalk Burger said there couldn’t be too many excuses.

“In the Stormers’ case, I don’t think it was an excuse. They could’ve flown there by spaceship and still would’ve come up short against an Exeter side that bossed the ball in the first half,” Burger, a Stormers and Springbok legend, told a media roundtable.

“It’s part and parcel of the game, especially if you’re playing in the URC. Europe, I suppose, was a bit of a challenge because it wasn’t budgeted for,” said Burger. “I know last week’s travel to Exeter was tough, but it’s a tricky place to get to in any case. It’s quite far down south, so even if you flew directly to London and went on from there, it’s still about a five-to-six-hour bus drive anyway.

“Look, I understand that for this group of players it was probably a new and different challenge, but I still believe it’s easier than travelling to Australasia or Japan or Argentina, like we did in Super Rugby. It’s an improvement just because you don’t have to deal with the length of the flights to get to those destinations, as well as the time difference,” he added.

While there was some disappointment that no side could qualify for the semi-finals, the general consensus was that the first season was a success but that the SA franchises will have to be better with their strategic planning in season two of their European adventure.

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In the meantime, the focus returns to the qualification for the United Rugby Championship playoffs as the final fortnight of the regular season resumes this weekend and the big fight for places in the top eight will go down to the wire.

For both the Sharks and Bulls, their matches against the two Italian clubs will be brutally important for their qualification hopes, especially now that three URC sides are in the EPCR Challenge Cup semi-finals and if one of them wins the competition, it will take away one of the qualification spots from the URC for next season.

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The Stormers will be looking to their performance against a Munster side desperate for success, not only for the result but for the impetus of energy they need after looking so flat against Exeter on Saturday.

The defending champions know all too well the meaning of momentum going into the playoffs and while they are unbeaten at home for more than a year now, it will be vital for them to get back their mojo before the knockouts begin.

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The Lions were disappointed by their own performance against Glasgow, and can still sneak into the playoffs if some other results go their way. Their performance against Leinster will not only be important for that, but also for their own progression as a team.

In the other matches Cardiff and Connacht will be keen to give their own hopes a massive boost with the Welsh side more desperate for points than the sixth-placed Irish team.

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Friday, 14 April
18h30: Sharks vs Benetton (Durban)
20h35: Glasgow Warriors vs Scarlets (Glasgow)
20h35: Ulster vs Dragons (Belfast)

Saturday, 15 April
13h00: Bulls vs Zebre Parma (Johannesburg)
16h00: Lions vs Leinster (Johannesburg)
18h15: Stormers vs Munster (Cape Town)
20h35: Cardiff Rugby vs Connacht (Cardiff)
20h35: Edinburgh vs Ospreys (Edinburgh)

Bulls in preparation for clash against Lions
Jake White talks to the Bulls players. Photo: Twitter.