All aboard the Stormers United Rugby Championship rollercoaster!

Stormers player Neethling Fouche with the ball

File. Stand-in captain Neethling Fouche (with the ball) is keen on continuing to include their fans in their United Rugby Championship campaign, as they prepare to take on the Bulls at Loftus Versfeld this weekend. Picture: Phando Jikelo/African News Agency ( ANA)

Published Feb 27, 2024


A big part of the Stormers’ success over the last couple of seasons is not only in putting smiles on the faces of supporters with their attacking playing style on the rugby field, but in making them a part of their journey off it.

Building up to a big north-south derby match in the United Rugby Championship (URC) can be a nervy week, but the inaugural champions took the squad to Ceres this past weekend, to their supporters in the countryside, even though they have a massive challenge ahead at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria on Saturday (kick-off 5.05pm).

And that is where they are getting things right, not just by winning on the field, but also off it when it comes to making the Stormers an inclusive side. They know their supporters, and making them smile is a major driving force behind the success they’ve had over the last couple of seasons.

Stand-in captain Neethling Fouche, who recently teamed up with one of their sponsors, BrightRock, to bring supporters a different side of his teammates in a game week, on the skit show Between The Poles, is keen on continuing to include their fans.

‘We are not robots’

“We want to show that we are not just a bunch of robots playing rugby on the field, but that there is some personality behind the player,” Fouché said, adding that in the build-up to an important match against the likes of the Sharks or Bulls, it can be good to break away from the seriousness.

“Yes, we are still going to prepare to the best of our abilities, but as a team and teammates, we like to joke around with each other and poke some fun. It’s all about the balance.”

The Stormers are preparing for the final north-south derby round-robin clash in the URC, against a fired-up Bulls side. Fouché and his teammates are on a seven-match winning streak against Jake White’s team, but this will arguably be their toughest encounter yet against their arch-rivals.

The Bulls are full of confidence, and with their Springboks back in the Kraal, they will be keen to break the Stormers’ stranglehold. Last weekend, an inspirational letter before the Sharks game from his father, Jan, spurred the team on, and they will rely on the same from their supporters to draw confidence for this weekend.

Fouché explains the letter from his dad was emotional, but it inspired them.

Tears flowing

“Before we went onto the field, the forwards and backs split, and coach Rito (Hlungwani) brought a letter my dad wrote for us forwards as inspiration.

“I read the letter, and immediately tears welled up in my eyes. It was an absolute honour to receive a letter from your father ahead of a big match like this. It makes it so special.

“It was so holy to hear from your dad ahead of the game. It gave a different feeling in this high-performance environment – getting something like that before you go into the battle, to hear what it means to him when he watches us, the roller-coaster he goes through during the game, sitting up for every scrum and maul, even though he is not on the field.

“This is such a primal sport, but the core of it is to make our families and supporters proud, and why we are going onto the rugby field every weekend. My dad understands how something like this can give you the extra 10% you need on the day.”

The Stormers will count on all the supporters in Gauteng and back home on Saturday to give them that extra 10% to keep their unbeaten record in the URC against the Bulls intact.