Fri 3 Jun 2022 | 09:08

URC quarterfinals - teams and predictions

URC quarterfinals - teams and predictions
Fri 3 Jun 2022 | 09:08
URC quarterfinals - teams and predictions
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SATURDAY PREVIEW: The stage for this weekend’s United Rugby Championships quarterfinals was set by the announcement that South African teams had been fully accepted into the European fold – the Champions Cup and Challenge Cup.

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The celebrations that greeted the announcement on Thursday is based on the quality the SA teams added to the URC this season – an upswing in interested and excitement matched by the equally dramatic downswing in Super Rugby since their departure from the Pacific-based competition.

Irish legend and Premier Sports pundit Rob Kearney said the South Africans have brought a “huge amount” to the URC, saying he is really looking forward to the South African derby – between the Bulls and Sharks at Loftus Versfeld.

“They have really peaked towards the end of the season,” 95-times capped Irish international said.

“They may have had a slow start, but their commitment to the competition is really strong and it is beginning to bear the fruits of that now.

Kearney, who played for 15 years for Leinster and went on two British & Irish Lions tours in 2009 and 2013, said the South Africans have brought a “very different game” to what they have seen in Ireland.

“That different type of game is something I am excited to watch.”

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The action get underway with an Irish derby on Friday, Ulster against Munster, but the heat will be turned up significantly at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria on Saturday, where the Bulls host the Sharks in a rivalry plenty of play-off history – dating back to the Currie Cup Final of 1990 and includes the first of three Super 14 wins for the Bulls in 2007.

The Bulls are on red-hot form, having lost only one of their last nine URC matches – beaten 19-17 at the Stormers on April 9.

On the flip side, is one of only two sides to have won at Loftus in the competition this season. The Stormers are the other.

The Sharks have some impressive form of their own, having lost only one of the six matches they have played against fellow South African franchises in the URC – that loss coming against the Stormers in Cape Town on February 5.

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Sharks captain Thomas du Toit is relishing the challenge of taking on the Bulls at Fort Loftus.

“We live for moments like this,” the 13-times capped Springbok prop said.

“When your back is on the ropes there’s only one way and that’s to fight your way out of it.

“I think that’s a good place to be in and a good mentality to have.”

Bulls Director of Rugby Jake White also spoke of the significance of the occasion.

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“I am really proud of our players for what they have achieved in reaching this stage of the URC,” White said.

“They have put in the hard work and have shown great determination to overcome some obstacles in the early stages of the season to reach the play-offs.”

He added that the Sharks have been an outstanding side throughout the campaign and they are expecting a very tough battle. .

“They have shown their quality with all the Springboks in their squad,” the Bulls boss said, adding: “Their depth with the great talent at their disposal and consistency which has seen them claim some good results.

“The fact that we have lost twice to them in the round robin stages shows the quality of their side.

“We have done what we can in our preparations for this weekend’s match.

“Now we will need to now implement and execute our plans well and play our best rugby if we want to overcome a quality outfit like the Sharks.”

White added that those two wins by the Sharks earlier this season count for nothing now.

“It is knock-out rugby now,” he said, adding: “I am confident based on how we have performed in play-offs before.

“The ones that counted we played our best rugby. hopefully Saturday will be the same.”

Sharks coach Sean Everitt happily embraced the ‘underdog’ tag, despite having named half-a-dozen World Cup winners in his starting XV.

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“We are looking forward to the battle at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday,” Everitt said.

“It is a privilege to be involved in a competition of this nature.

“We have stuck to our processes this week and trained really well, and as a group everyone is on the same page, and we are really looking forward to the challenge of playing against the Bulls on their home ground.”

The knock-out stages are all about being in it and we are certainly there,” the coach said, pointing to the set pieces as one of the key factors.

He added that you simply can’t afford any “soft moments” defensively, which is an aspect that has cost them dearly at stages this season.

“Our big players have to stand up,” Everitt said, adding: “They have the experience of being in the knock-out stages of a World Cup and thank goodness we have them to lean on.

“I am sure the quality of players they are and the characters they are, they will be on top of their game on Saturday.”

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* The other big game for South Africa is in Cape Town, where the Stormers host Edinburgh.

One very high-profile pundit with a keen interest in this quarterfinal is Scotland international back row forward John Barclay, who won the Pro14 with the Scarlets in 2017.

With 148 appearances for Glasgow, 104 for Scarlets and 14 for Edinburgh, the tough-talking Premier Sports pundit says both Scottish teams will have to raise their game on Saturday.

Barclay said that the Stormers versus Edinburgh is set up to be a great game to watch.

“I think Edinburgh – of the two Scottish sides – will be more confident,” Barclay said.

“The Stormers haven’t been perfect, but what they have done is when they’ve not played particularly well they still have that capacity to score tries from nothing.

“I think that’s what makes them so dangerous.

“When you look at their players – [Manie] Libbok, [Warrick] Gelant, [Leolin] Zas, amongst others – they can create from almost nothing.

“They look like they found how they want to play the game, add their form at home and their back row is superb.

“The challenge and onus for Edinburgh is to get out of the blocks fast, start well and put the pressure on and not get drawn into too loose a game.

“Edinburgh have to be more pragmatic, to play in the right areas of the pitch and squeeze the Stormers to see how disciplined they are.”

Barclay gives credit to Mike Blair for the big impact he’s made his first nine months in charge at Edinburgh.

“I think it’s pretty remarkable actually, you judge a coach arguably on a couple of years into their rein and it’s inevitable you inherit a squad which probably wasn’t suited to the style of rugby Mike’s trying to play,” the Scottish legend said.

“The understanding I get from the guys is they love the environment, there’s smiles on their faces, the brand of rugby they are playing is great, it still needs to mature a bit.

“For me, Mike has done a superb job in his first nine months in charge. He’s developed a lot of talent to make them more competitive.

“They have got a lot of quality. If you are comparing Edinburgh to Leinster or one of the heavyweights in Europe, they do pack a decent punch for the budgets they have.”

Stormers coach John Dobson said a lot of hard work has gone into securing this home quarterfinal, but admitted Edinburgh is a good team that deserves their place in the play-offs.

“We are determined to rise to the occasion,” he said.

“It has been a good week of preparation and everyone is excited about what should be a memorable day.

“We want to raise the intensity and make sure that we are at our best for the full 80 minutes, playing the kind of rugby that has got us into this position.”

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Edinburgh coach Mike Blair said they really benefited from their two-week tour of South Africa back in April.

“It galvanised the guys,” Blair said, adding: “There’s a great feeling of togetherness with this group.

“They love playing for each other and representing this club.

“We’ve approached Saturday’s match in the same way we have all season.

“It’s really important for us to stay relaxed and trust what we are trying to do.”

He said the Stormers is a strong side and they know it’s going to be a huge test away from home.

“However, we have belief and confidence in the way we want to play.”

* The two matches in South Africa are split by the tournament favourites Leinster hosting the Warriors in Dublin.

Leinster has lost only one match at home this season – a 10-20 reverse to Ulster at the RDS Arena in November.

The most recent meeting between these sides in Dublin finished 40-21 in Leinster’s favour in February 2021, while Glasgow Warriors last won at the RDS in April 2019.

Leinster have won all three of their previous play-off encounters with Glasgow Warriors at the RDS Arena.

Barclay has put his money on an Irish win.

“It’s a slim chance against Leinster, that’s no slight on Glasgow,” the Scottish legend said, adding: “It’s just fact that not many teams win at the RDS or in Lansdowne Road against Leinster.

“The challenge for Glasgow is massive, particularly going to the RDS and win a knock-out stage in the league.

“It’s tough for them although they won’t be overawed by it.

“But they will have to play better than they have done for the past couple of weeks and certainly better than they did against Edinburgh when they were very poor.

“You’d hope that Glasgow, as a lighter team when the pitches dry out that it would suit their brand of rugby – but that’s not materialised yet.

“They are packed with Scottish internationals and should be able to raise their game and make a good fist of it.

“But it is Leinster and it’s the Irish international team you are playing. You would not plan to go into the play-offs with four losses on the spin – so it’s do or die. Glasgow have got to front up.”

Glasgow Warriors coach Danny Wilson said they are excited to be in a quarterfinal and playing away at Leinster is as big a challenge as it gets.

“Leinster have been the benchmark in the league in recent years.

“We know we go into this game as underdogs, but we’re confident that we have prepared well this week, welcome the challenge this game presents and look forward to putting our own imprint on the game.”

All the Saturday, June 4, teams and predictions below

Bulls v Sharks
(Loftus Versfeld Stadium, Pretoria – Kick-off: 13.45; 11.45 GMT)

Prediction

@rugby365com: Bulls by eight points

Teams

Bulls: 15 Canan Moodie, 14 David Kriel, 13 Cornal Hendricks, 12 Harold Vorster, 11 Madosh Tambwe, 10 Chris Smith, 9 Izak Burger, 8 Elrigh Louw, 7 Arno Botha, 6 Marcell Coetzee (captain), 5 Ruan Nortje, 4 Walt Steenkamp, 3 Mornay Smith, 2 Johan Grobbelaar, 1 Gerhard Steenekamp.
Replacements: 16 Jan-Hendrik Wessels, 17 Lizo Gqoboka, 18 Robert Hunt, 19 Janko Swanepoel, 20 Reinhardt Ludwig, 21 Embrose Papier, 22 Morné Steyn, 23 Stedman Gans.

Sharks: 15 Aphelele Fassi, 14 Werner Kok, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Marius Louw, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Curwin Bosch, 9 Jaden Hendrikse, 8 Phendulani Buthelezi, 7 Henco Venter, 6 Siyamthanda Kolisi, 5 Reniel Hugo, 4 Le Roux Roets, 3 Thomas du Toit (captain), 2 Mbongeni Mbonambi, 1 Retshegofaditswe Nche.
Replacements: 16 Kerron van Vuuren, 17 Ntuthuko Mchunu, 18 Khutha Mchunu, 19 Ruben van Heerden, 20 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 21 Grant Williams, 22 Henry Chamberlain, 23 Ben Tapuai.

Referee: Andrew Brace (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Mike Adamson (Scotland), Sam Grove-White (Scotland)
TMO: Joy Neville (Ireland)

Leinster v Glasgow Warriors
(RDS Arena, Dublin – Kick-off: 15.15; 14.15 GMT)

Prediction

@rugby365com: Leinster by 20 points

Teams

Leinster: 15 Jimmy O’Brien, 14 Jordan Larmour, 13 Garry Ringrose, 12 Ciarán Frawley, 11 Rory O’Loughlin, 10 Ross Byrne, 9 Jamison Gibson-Park, 8 Caelan Doris, 7 Josh van der Flier, 6 Ryan Baird, 5 James Ryan (captain), 4 Joe McCarthy, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 2 Dan Sheehan, 1 Andrew Porter.
Replacements: 16 Seán Cronin, 17 Cian Healy, 18 Michael Ala’alatoa, 19 Ross Molony, 20 Jack Conan, 21 Luke McGrath, 22 Harry Byrne, 23 Robbie Henshaw.

Glasgow: 15 Ollie Smith, 14 Josh McKay, 13 Sione Tuipulotu, 12 Sam Johnson, 11 Rufus McLean, 10 Ross Thompson, 9 Ali Price, 8 Jack Dempsey, 7 Gregor Brown, 6 Ryan Wilson (captain), 5 Richie Gray, 4 Rob Harley, 3 Zander Fagerson, 2 George Turner, 1 Jamie Bhatti.
Replacements: 16 Fraser Brown, 17 Oliver Kebble, 18 Simon Berghan, 19 Lewis Bean, 20 Kiran McDonald, 21 Thomas Gordon, 22 George Horne, 23 Domingo Miotti.

Referee: Andrea Piardi (Italy)
Assistant referees: Craig Evans (Wales), Gianluca Gnecchi (Italy)
TMO: Matteo Lipperini (Italy)

Stormers v Edinburgh
(Cape Town Stadium, Cape Town – Kick-off: 19.00; 18.00 UK time; 17.00 GMT)

Prediction

@rugby365com: Stormers by 12 points

Teams

Stormers: 15 Warrick Gelant, 14 Seabelo Senatla, 13 Ruhan Nel, 12 Rikus Pretorius, 11 Leolin Zas, 10 Manie Libbok, 9 Herschel Jantjies, 8 Evan Roos, 7 Hacjivah Dayimani, 6 Deon Fourie, 5 Marvin Orie, 4 Salmaan Moerat, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Jean-Jacques Kotze, 1 Steven Kitshoff (captain).
Replacements: 16 Andre-Hugo Venter, 17 Brok Harris, 18 Neethling Fouche, 19 Adre Smith, 20 Ernst van Rhyn, 21 Kuyenzeka Xaba, 22 Godlen Masimla, 23 Sacha Mngomezulu.

Edinburgh: 15 Emiliano Boffelli, 14 Darcy Graham, 13 Mark Bennett, 12 Chris Dean, 11 Damien Hoyland, 10 Blair Kinghorn, 9 Henry Pyrgos, 8 Magnus Bradbury, 7 Hamish Watson, 6 Luke Crosbie, 5 Grant Gilchrist (captain), 4 Jamie Hodgson, 3 Willem Nel, 2 Dave Cherry, 1 Pierre Schoeman
Replacements: 16 Adam McBurney, 17 Harrison Courtney, 18 Lee-Roy Atalifo, 19 Marshall Sykes, 20 Ben Muncaster, 21 Charlie Shiel, 22 Jaco van der Walt, 23 James Lang

Referee: Frank Murphy (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Chris Busby (Ireland), Adam Jones (Wales)
TMO: Ben Whitehouse (Wales)

@king365ed
@rugby365com

PV: 9
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