URC Round 16 - teams and prediction
SATURDAY PREVIEW: The South African teams will be hoping for another ‘clean sweep’ as the United Rugby Championship moves into the home stretch.
With just three rounds of league action remaining before the play-offs, teams are well aware that just one loss could have dire consequences.
Bulls Director of Rugby Jake White said that his message to the team this week was that you have to play your best rugby at the back end of the competition.
“You don’t want to play all your best rugby in the beginning and not make the play-offs,” White told @rugby365com in the build-up to Saturday’s encounter.
“We have been growing and have developed a lot in all aspects of our game.
“We are not where we want to be yet, but what I will be looking for is that in all the areas we have worked on there is a continual improvement.”
It will be a similar message from all the teams still in the play-off race – with the Bulls (eighth on the table with 43 points) getting the Saturday action started against Benetton at Loftus Versfeld.
Compatriots the Sharks (sixth, 46 points) have an equally tricky encounter with the table-topping Leinster (60) at Kings Park – despite the Irish powerhouse having left a number of Test stars at home.
Scarlets (ninth, 38 points) travel to Newport to take on the Dragons (already out of the play-off race), determined to cling to the top spot in the Welsh conference ahead of Ospreys (11th, 30 points), who will take on Cardiff at Arms Park.
The Lions (12th, 30 points) and Connacht (10th, 32 points) meet at Ellis Park with only pride at stake – both having nothing more than the remotest mathematical chances of reaching the play-offs.
It is at Loftus and Kings Park where most of the Saturday focus will be.
The Bulls’ five-game winning run in the URC ended with their 17-19 loss to Stormers in Cape Town on April 9.
However, the Bulls have won their last six matches at Loftus Versfeld in all competitions – since the Sharks beat them there on February 12.
Benetton’s only victory in any competition since mid-January was a 17-7 win at home to Perpignan in the European Challenge Cup on April 9. Benetton has also not been victorious outside of Italy since a 44-20 win at Stade Francais in the European Challenge Cup in December 2020.
White said the Bulls won’t be caught cold again by Benetton as they did in the Rainbow Cup Final last year.
He added that with 11 or 12 members of the Italian national team that beat Wales in the last round of the Six Nations in March, the Bulls will be in for another “tough test” of their resolve.
“They are a good side that has had some good wins against strong teams such as the Stormers and Edinburgh, among other wins this season,” the Bulls boss said.
“They will also be full of confidence with a full complement of their international players,”he said, adding: “We will need to be at our best to counter a dangerous team like Benetton.”
However, there is an ‘edge’ to the Bulls this week, who haven’t forgotten the ambush they suffered during their trip to Treviso in 2021.
“This time it is on our turf,” White said.
However, he said they need to concentrate on their own game and not focus on the ‘revenge factor’ in the game.
“We can still control our own destiny,” he said of their encounters with Benetton, Glasgow Warriors (at Loftus next week) and Ospreys (in Swansea on May 20).
White admitted some aspects of his team’s game were not up to par in the loss to the Stormers a fortnight ago, but felt that if they lift their intensity and improve the continuity they would be able to get the desired result.
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* In Durban the focus will be on the absence of star players like Johnny Sexton, Robbie Henshaw, Garry Ringrose, Tadhg Furlong, Hugo Keenan, Caelan Doris, Jack Conan, James Lowe, Josh van der Flier, Jamison Gibson-Park and Ross Byrne.
Leinster is 10 points clear at the top of the URC and could clinch the season-end top spot should results go their way this weekend.
The Sharks’ only previous fixture against an Irish province was their 17-42 loss to Munster in Limerick in September.
Leinster has lost just once before to a South African opponent – beaten on a trip to the Cheetahs in September 2017.
The experimental nature of the 31-man squad in Durban means the Sharks will be heavily favoured, but coach Sean Everitt is not being lured into a false sense of security.
He pointed to the fact that the tourists still field 10 internationals and any team they field will be ‘powerful’.
Also, they managed to collect 23 league points while their stars were on international duty with Ireland in the Six Nations.
Despite the absence of so many internationals, Everitt is not expecting their approach to change – a ball-in-hand game, with their game drivers expected to dictate the terms.
The Sharks coach spoke of the need to be “accurate” and “keeping the ball through long periods”.
The ‘grim’ weather means defence will also be key for the hosts, to create turnover opportunities from which to counter.
That also brings the pack of forwards into play.
“The [Sharks] forwards have put in some massive performances in recent week,” the Sharks coach said.
“In saying that, we will have to be on top of our game. The Leinster front row has been picked in an attempt to nullify our strengths.”
He also pointed to the form of the halfback combination of flyhalf Curwin Bosch and scrumhalf Jaden Hendrikse, who have come along in leaps and bounds.
“When you are playing on the front foot, it is obviously a lot easier to get your attack going,” Everitt said.
“The forwards do lay the foundation for us – from an attack and defensive point of view.
Leinster coach Leo Cullen admitted it will be “tough going”, given the quality of the players they have left at home.
“It’s very alien in terms of the surrounds, but that makes it special as well,” Cullen said.
“I grew up as a kid watching these four [South African] teams and understand the tradition that they have.
“It’s going to be a great challenge for our guys against quality teams.
“For our guys, particularly around the set-piece battle, there’s going to be great learning.
“In terms of the South African teams coming into the URC, that’s a real positive because they bring a different dynamic, particularly around that set-piece part of the game.”
* The Lions have won their last four URC matches at Ellis Park since the Stormers triumphed there on February 12.
Connacht has won their last eight matches against South African opponents, having last suffered defeat to the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein in 2018.
Lions captain Burger Odendaal described it as a “big” game for the hosts, given their recent form at the altitude of Johannesburg.
“We want to keep the momentum against overseas opposition,” the skipper said.
“If the weather plays along it will be a cracker.”
Lions coach Ivan van Rooyen spoke about the Irish skillset and fitness as aspects that will test the home team’s resolve.
“They bring an attacking mindset that will be a great test and a challenge for us,” Van Rooyen said.
He added that the approach of the visitors will result in a more entertaining spectacle.
“It will suit us,” the coach said, adding that he expects plenty of running metres.
Connacht coach Andy Friend said the disappointment of last week’s 20-56 Champions Cup loss to Leinster still lingers.
“However, there is still a great sense of optimism in the group that we can finish these last few games on a high,” Friend said.
“The game [on Saturday] brings additional challenges like the altitude, and the results so far have shown how difficult it is for European teams to get a win here.
“The Lions have a strong scrum and pacy wings so it is up to us to not give them any footholds in the game, and take our chances when we get them.”
* The Saturday predictions and teams are below …
Saturday, April 23
Bulls v Benetton
(Loftus Versfeld Stadium, Pretoria – Kick-off: 14.00; 14.00 Italian time; 12.00 GMT)
Bulls: 83 percent
Benetton: <1 percent
@rugby365com: Bulls by 15 points
Bulls: 15 Kurt-Lee Arendse, 14 Canan Moodie, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Cornal Hendricks, 11 Madosh Tambwe, 10 Chris Smith, 9 Embrose Papier, 8 Elrigh Louw, 7 Cyle Brink, 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 Simphiwe Matanzima, 18 Dylan Smith, 19 Janko Swanepoel, 20 Arno Botha, 21 Zak Burger, 22 Morne Steyn, 23 Stedman Gans.
Benetton: 15 Rhyno Smith, 14 Mattia Bellini, 13 Ignacio Brex, 12 Tommaso Menoncello, 11 Monty Ioane, 10 Tomas Albornoz, 9 Dewaldt Duvenage (captain), 8 Lorenzo Cannone, 7 Manuel Zuliani, 6 Giovanni Pettinelli, 5 Carl Wegner, 4 Irné Herbst, 3 Simone Ferrari, 2 Corniel Els, 1 Ivan Neme.
Replacements: 16 Giacomo Nicotera, 17 Federico Zani, 18 Tiziano Pasquali, 19 Niccolò Cannone, 20 Michele Lamaro, 21 Alessandro Garbisi, 22 Filippo Drago, 23 Edoardo Padovani.
Referee: Mike Adamson (Scotland)
Assistant referees: Griffin Colby (South Africa), Christopher Allison (South Africa)
TMO: Quinton Immelman (South Africa)
Dragons v Scarlets
(Rodney Parade, Newport – Kick-off: 15.00; 14.00 GMT)
Dragons: 0 percent
Scarlets: 34 percent
@rugby365com: Scarlets by seven points
Dragons: 15 Jordan Williams, 14 Jared Rosser, 13 Adam Warren, 12 Jack Dixon, 11 Rio Dyer, 10 Sam Davies, 9 Gonzalo Bertranou, 8 Aaron Wainwright, 7 Ben Fry, 6 Harri Keddie (captain), 5 Will Rowlands, 4 Ben Carter, 3 Leon Brown, 2 Taylor Davies, 1 Aki Seiuli.
Replacements: 16 Elliot Dee, 17 Josh Reynolds, 18 Chris Coleman, 19 Joe Davies, 20 Taine Basham, 21 Rhodri Williams, 22 Josh Lewis, 23 Ioan Davies.
Scarlets: 15 Angus O’Brien, 14 Corey Baldwin, 13 Jonathan Davies (captain), 12 Johnny Williams, 11 Steff Evans, 10 Rhys Patchell, 9 Gareth Davies, 8 Sione Kalamafoni, 7 Tomas Lezana, 6 Josh Macleod, 5 Jac Price, 4 Sam Lousi, 3 Javan Sebastian, 2 Ryan Elias, 1 Steff Thomas.
Replacements: 16 Daf Hughes, 17 Rob Evans, 18 WillGriff John, 19 Morgan Jones, 20 Aaron Shingler, 21 Kieran Hardy, 22 Tyler Morgan, 23 Ryan Conbeer.
Referee: Sam Grove-White (Scotland)
Assistant referees: Gareth Newman (Wales), Elgan Williams (Wales)
TMO: Ben Whitehouse (Wales)
Lions v Connacht
(Ellis Park, Johannesburg – Kick-off: 16.05; 15.05 Ireland & UK; 14.05 GMT)
Lions: <1 percent
Connacht: 2 percent
@rugby365com: Lions by five points
Lions: 15 Quan Horn, 14 Sibahle Maxwane, 13 Wandisile Simelane, 12 Burger Odendaal (captain), 11 Edwill van der Merwe, 10 Jordan Hendrikse, 9 Morne van den Berg, 8 Emmanuel Tshituka, 7 Vincent Tshituka, 6 Francke Horn, 5 Reinhard Nothnagel, 4 Ruben Schoeman, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Pieter Botha, 1 Sithembiso Sithole.
Replacements: 16 Jaco Visagie, 17 Jean-Pierre Smith, 18 Carlu Sadie, 19 Ruan Venter, 20 Sibusiso Sangweni, 21 Andre Warner, 22 Manuel Rass, 23 Tiaan Swanepoel.
Connacht: 15 Mack Hansen, 14 John Porch, 13 Bundee Aki, 12 Tom Daly, 11 Alex Wootton, 10 Jack Carty, 9 Caolin Blade, 8 Paul Boyle, 7 Jarrad Butler, 6 Cian Prendergast, 5 Niall Murray, 4 Oisín Dowling, 3 Jack Aungier, 2 Dave Heffernan, 1 Denis Buckley.
Replacements: 16 Dylan Tierney-Martin, 17 Jordan Duggan, 18 Greg McGrath, 19 Leva Fifita, 20 Conor Oliver, 21 Kieran Marmion, 22 Conor Fitzgerald, 23 Shayne Bolton.
Referee: Craig Evans (Wales)
Assistant referees: Aimee Barrett-Theron (South Africa), Morne Ferreira (South Africa)
TMO: Marius van der Westhuizen (South Africa)
Cardiff v Ospreys
(Arms Park, Cardiff – Kick-off: 17.15; 16.15 GMT)
Cardiff: <1 percent
Ospreys: 6 percent
@rugby365com: Cardiff by three points
Cardiff: 15 Hallam Amos, 14 Owen Lane, 13 Rey Lee-Lo, 12 Max Llewellyn, 11 Theo Cabango, 10 Rhys Priestland, 9 Tomos Williams, 8 James Ratti, 7 Josh Navidi (captain), 6 Shane Lewis-Hughes, 5 Rory Thornton, 4 Seb Davies, 3 Dmitri Arhip, 2 Liam Belcher, 1 Rhys Carré.
Replacements: 16 Kristian Dacey, 17 Brad Thyer, 18 Dillon Lewis, 19 Matthew Screech, 20 James Botham, 21 Lloyd Williams, 22 Jarrod Evans, 23 Matthew Morgan.
Ospreys: 15 Max Nagy, 14 Alex Cuthbert, 13 Michael Collins, 12 Owen Watkin, 11 Keelan Giles, 10 Gareth Anscombe, 9 Rhys Webb (captain), 8 Morgan Morris, 7 Jac Morgan, 6 Will Griffiths, 5 Alun Wyn Jones, 4 Adam Beard, 3 Tomas Francis, 2 Dewi Lake, 1 Gareth Thomas.
Replacements: 16 Sam Parry, 17 Nicky Smith, 18 Tom Botha, 19 Rhys Davies, 20 Ethan Roots, 21 Reuben Morgan-Williams, 22 Stephen Myler, 23 Mat Protheroe.
Referee: Gianluca Gnecchi (Italy)
Assistant referees: Adam Jones (Wales), Jason Bessant (Wales)
TMO: Sean Brickell (Wales)
Sharks v Leinster
(Kings Park, Durban – Kick-off: 18.15; 17.15 Ireland & UK; 16.15 GMT)
Sharks: 88 percent
Leinster: 100 percent
@rugby365com: Sharks by six points
Sharks: 15 Aphelele Fassi, 14 Werner Kok, 13 Ben Tapuai, 12 Marius Louw, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Curwin Bosch, 9 Jaden Hendrikse, 8 Phendulani Buthelezi, 7 Henco Venter, 6 Siyamthanda Kolisi, 5 Gerbrandt Grobler, 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 Reniel Hugo, 20 Jeandré Labuschagne, 21 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 22 Grant Williams, 23 Henry Chamberlain.
Leinster: 15 Chris Cosgrave 14 Tommy O’Brien, 13 Jamie Osborne, 12 Ciarán Frawley, 11 Rory O’Loughlin, 10 Harry Byrne, 9 Nick McCarthy, 8 Max Deegan, 7 Scott Penny, 6 Rhys Ruddock (captain), 5 Jack Dunne, 4 Brian Deeny, 3 Thomas Clarkson, 2 Rónan Kelleher, 1 Andrew Porter.
Replacements: 16 John McKee, 17 Peter Dooley, 18 Michael Ala’alatoa, 19 Josh Murphy, 20 Alex Soroka, 21 Cormac Foley, 22 David Hawkshaw, 23 Martin Moloney.
Referee: Nika Amashukeli (Georgia)
Assistant referees: AM Jacobs (South Africa), Stephan Geldenhuys (South Africa)
TMO: Marius Jonker (South Africa)
* Additional reporting by @URCOfficial