The stark reality facing SA teams
SPOTLIGHT: The success of the Irish province in the European Cup has again highlighted the enormity of the challenge faced by South African teams in the United Rugby Championships.
Newcomers to Europe, the South African teams managed just four wins and a draw in the opening month – when facing European opposition.
The Sharks have subsequently won both their domestic derbies (against the Bulls and Lions), the Lions beat the Stormers and the Stormers beat the Bulls – for another four wins.
However, with the first full round since mid-October, the URC will reclaim the spotlight from the European Cup this weekend.
It is not a surprise that all four Irish provinces qualified for the last 16 of the Champions Cup.
Their impressive European form is borne out by their success in the URC, where all four teams are currently in the top eight – play-off positions.
For South African teams the prospect of facing foreign opposition will have to wait a little longer.
The one team outside Ireland that has set the URC is Edinburgh – who is second in the Pool C of Challenge Cup, Europe’s second tier competition.
Edinburgh visit Ospreys this weekend looking, to cement their lead at the top of the URC log.
Having already secured passage to the last 16 of the Challenge Cup, Mike Blair’s side will be looking forward to trying to secure an away win in Wales to show they are real contender’s to Leinster’s dominance of the URC.
Edinburgh’s attack is potent.
They sit second overall in the league, just behind Leinster, with 205 points scored this season, of which 140 have come via their 28 tries.
They’ve also made more clean breaks, 63, than any other side in the URC.
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However, they will be up against the top-rated defending side in the competition in the Ospreys.
Ospreys also top the leader board in the kicking stats; they have successfully kicked more penalties than any other team with 27 successful penalty goals. In fact, the team that comes nearest to that is the Sharks with 14 while Edinburgh has slotted 11 penalties so far this season.
Cardiff wing Owen Lane is relishing the prospect of Leinster’s visit to the Arm’s Park, with the Irish side set to arrive as red-hot favourites with a game in hand over Edinburgh.
But the Welsh side is hoping to make it a tough visit for the Pro14 champions.
“They are quality opposition,” Lane said.
“They are historically one of the best teams in the league and they are definitely playing that way at the moment so it’s a big challenge.
“But against Quins, we played very good rugby, we played with the ball, we were exciting to watch and scored some good tries so hopefully we can put on a good show and try to create an upset.
“We played them last year when they had their internationals away and we were in the game until 60 minutes but they scored a few runaway tries.
“That’s the danger with Leinster they can score in quick concession very quickly. We have to put a full 80-minute performance in but historically we have been good finishing off games so we have to start well, get some tries on the board and hopefully we can compete for the full 80.”
Third-placed Ulster face Scarlets this weekend, with Ross Moriarty returning to give the Welsh side a boost, while fourth-placed Glasgow will be looking to stop Andy Friend’s Connacht resurgence to keep their title aspirations alive.
Munster should have the measure of Zebre when they head to Parma on Friday and have a game in hand over Glasgow.
Fixtures this weekend
Friday, January 28
Dragons v Benetton
Ulster v Scarlets
Saturday, January 29
Lions v Bulls
Connacht v Glasgow Warriors
Sharks v Stormers
Zebre v Munster
Ospreys v Edinburgh
Cardiff v Leinster
* Additional reporting by @URCOfficial