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URC, Round 16 - Teams and Predictions

SATURDAY PREVIEWS: There is no margin for error as the scrap for places in the play-offs heats up, with just three rounds of league action remaining.

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Ulster, Glasgow Warriors, Munster, the Bulls, Sharks and Connacht all still have their destiny in their own hands.

However, one loss could change their situation dramatically.

Ulster has to win their remaining three matches and hopes the Stormers slip up, as they look to leap above the reigning champions into the second spot and secure home passage through to the Final.

The Bulls, who are also desperately in need of points to nail down a play-off spot and potentially push for a top-four finish are already in play-off mode.

The men from Pretoria will be looking to turn things around after a run of six successive defeats in the URC, Champions Cup and Currie Cup.

You have to go back to mid-January for their last win in any competition.

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Using a golf analogy, Bulls Director of Rugby Jake White said his team has three “long par fours into the wind” remaining.

“We have to find a way to make a birdie or two, so we can make the cut,” the Bulls boss told @rugby365com adding: “We need to find a way to get a win.”

White said he was going to settle down in terms of his selection, hoping continuity will bring the desired result.

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He also pointed to Ulster’s home record as a massive factor in the outcome of this Round 16 encounter – pointing to their 35-5 demolition of the defending champion Stormers as a prime example.

“Their squad is balanced and settled.

“They are at home and have a big pack of forwards,” White said of an Ulster team captained by former Bulls skipper and World Cup-winning Springbok Duane Vermeulen.

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* The Scarlets versus Sharks face-off in Llanelli is another must-win game for the seventh-placed Sharks – who lost their last two league matches and will know another defeat could well see them drop out of the all-important top eight.

On the flip side, victory would leave them really handily placed with home matches to come in the final two rounds.

In contrast, the Scarlets – like Ospreys – are on the tail of Cardiff in the quest for the Welsh Shield.

They are now only five points behind them having turned their season around after winning just one of their first nine matches.

They have scrumhalf Kieran Hardy returning from Wales squad duty, but experienced backs Johnny McNicholl (knee) and Jonathan Davies (calf) are sidelined, with Davies set to miss the rest of the season.

Sharks Director of Rugby Neil Powell said, despite their poor 2023 form, he does not expect their Welsh – in 14th place on the standings – opponents to just roll over and play dead.

His real challenge is the lack of game time by the large chunk of Springboks in his team – Lukhanyo Am, Makazole Mapimpi, Jaden Hendrikse, Siyamthanda Kolisi, Eben Etzebeth, Mbongeni Mbonambi and Retshegofaditswe NchĂ©.

They spent a month on R&R and another month of ‘reconditioning training’ in a national camp.

“The last two weeks for us was important [during training] to get as much ‘rugby’ into them as possible,” Powell told @rugby365com.

“We needed to get them back into our attacking shapes and defensive structures,” the Sharks boss added.

“It is very different when you play, from when you practice, but we tried as best we can to get the rustiness out of them.”

Powell said Scarlets’ biggest threat is their ability to drag the Sharks into an unstructured and scrappy game.

“They have nothing to lose,” he said, adding: “We need to keep the game as structured as possible, otherwise we will play into their hands.

Scarlets coach Dwayne Peel spoke about the cluster of “world-renowned” players in the visiting team

“We know it is going to be a big challenge, but the boys are raring to go,” Peel said.

“Whenever you play South African sides, regardless of what names are on the team sheet, you know you have to reach a level of physicality, be error-free and also be able to put pressure on them.

“We played the Bulls here not long ago, they also brought some big names and it was a great game of rugby.”

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* The ninth-placed Italian outfit Benetton and the 11th-placed Lions are both desperate to stay in the race for a top-eight finish in the competition, with two rounds remaining after Saturday.

Benetton is just one point outside the top eight so they will be aiming to heap the pressure on the teams above them by getting the better of their guests from Johannesburg.

To stay in the play-off hunt, they really do need to win this one as it’s their last home game of the regular season ahead of spending the final two rounds out in South Africa.

The Lions, for their part, have put themselves right back in the mix with victories over Glasgow Warriors and the Bulls.

Although they are outside the top 10, they are only six points off the eighth spot and can’t be discounted, especially as their last two fixtures are at home.

If they win in Treviso, they become serious play-off contenders

Speaking from Treviso ahead of Saturday, Lions scrum coach Julian Redelinghuys said he expects a physical encounter combined with an expansive style of play from both sides.

He said the risk is getting into a helter-skelter game and letting your own structure disintegrate.

“Benetton is a team that likes to throw the ball around, and we ourselves like to do the same – so I think it will be an entertaining match to watch,” Redelinghuys told @rugby365com.

“In saying that, the team that is more accurate and can absorb the pressure will do well,.

“Reflecting on our last fixture against them back in South Africa last year, it was probably one of the most physical games and that’s what we look forward to the most, coupled with playing against a quality team with a few internationals potentially coming back.

“It’s going to be a good battle and a really good game for us to see where we’re at as we feel we’ve grown over the past couple of weeks and ultimately what counts is what happens between the four white lines,” he concluded.

Lions loose forward Emmanuel Tshituka spoke about the passion of the Italian players, especially when they are in front of their own crowds.

“It is going to be a difficult game,” he said, adding that he hopes the weather allows the Lions to play their expansive game.

“We strongly believe in what we have and are confident in our ability to get the win.”

Tshituka said the wins over Glasgow and the Bulls got the belief back in the team.

All the Saturday teams and predictions follow below

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Benetton v Lions
(Stadio Monigo, Treviso – Kick-off: 14.00; 15.00 SA time; 13.00 GMT)

Prediction

@rugby365com: Benetton by nine points

Teams

Benetton: 15 Matteo Minozzi, 14 Onisi Ratave, 13 Joaquin Riera, 12 Filippo Drago, 11 Marcus Watson, 10 Jacob Umaga, 9 Dewaldt Duvenage (captain), 8 Lorenzo Cannone, 7 Manuel Zuliani, 6 Giovanni Pettinelli, 5 Riccardo Favretto, 4 Niccolò Cannone, 3 Simone Ferrari, 2 Siua Maile, 1 Nahuel Tetaz.
Replacements: 16 Bautista Bernasconi, 17 Thomas Gallo, 18 Tiziano Pasquali, 19 Federico Ruzza, 20 Henry Time-Stowers, 21 Alessandro Garbisi, 22 Giacomo Da Re, 23 Marco Zanon.

Lions: 15 Quan Horn, 14 Sibahle Maxwane, 13 Manuel Rass, 12 Marius Louw (captain), 11 Edwill van der Merwe, 10 Gianni Lombard, 9 Sanele Nohamba, 8 Francke Horn, 7 Ruan Venter, 6 Emmanuel Tshituka, 5 Ruben Schoeman, 4 Willem Alberts, 3 Asenathi Ntlabakanye, 2 Pieter Botha, 1 Jean-Pierre Smith.
Replacements: 16 Morné Brandon, 17 Rhynardt Rijnsburger, 18 Ruan Dreyer, 19 Reinhard Nothnagel, 20 Travis Gordon, 21 Morné van den Berg, 22 Rynhardt Jonker, 23 Andries Coetzee.

Referee: Frank Murphy (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Filippo Russo (Italy), Filippo Vinci (Italy)
TMO: Joy Neville (Ireland)

Ospreys v Dragons
(Swansea Stadium, Swansea – Kick-off: 13.00; 13.00 GMT)

Prediction

@rugby365com: Ospreys by 14 points

Teams

Ospreys: 15 Iestyn Hopkins, 14 Luke Morgan, 13 Owen Watkin, 12 Keiran Williams, 11 George North, 10 Jack Walsh, 9 Reuben Morgan-Williams, 8 Morgan Morris, 7 Ethan Roots, 6 Dan Lydiate, 5 Alun-wyn Jones, 4 Huw Sutton, 3 Tom Botha, 2 Sam Parry, 1 Nicky Smith (captain).
Replacements: 16 Dewi Lake, 17 Gareth Thomas, 18 Ben Warren, 19 Rhys Davies, 20 Harri Deaves, 21 Matthew Aubrey, 22 Luke Scully, 23Michael Collins.

Dragons: 15 Angus O’Brien, 14 Jordan Williams, 13 Sio Tomkinson, 12 Steff Hughes, 11 Ashton Hewitt, 10 Will Reed, 9 Rhodri Williams, 8 Ollie Griffiths, 7 Harrison Keddie (captain), 6 Ross Moriarty, 5 George Nott, 4 Sean Lonsdale, 3 Lloyd Fairbrother, 2 Elliot Dee, 1 Rhodri Jones.
Replacements: 16 Bradley Roberts, 17 Aki Seiuli, 18 Chris Coleman, 19 Huw Taylor, 20 Aaron Wainwright, 21 Taine Basham, 22 Lewis Jones, 23 Max Clark.

Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Adam Jones (Wales), Aaron Parry (Wales)
TMO: Marius Jonker (South Africa)

Connacht v Edinburgh
(The Sportsground, Galway – Kick-off: 15.00, 15.00 GMT)

Prediction

@rugby365com: Connacht by 11 points

Teams

Connacht: 15 Oran McNulty, 14 Diarmuid Kilgallen, 13 Tom Farrell, 12 Cathal Forde, 11 John Porch, 10 David Hawkshaw, 9 Caolin Blade, 8 Jarrad Butler, 7 Conor Oliver, 6 Cian Prendergast, 5 Niall Murray, 4 OisĂ­n Dowling, 3 Jack Aungier, 2 Dylan Tierney-Martin, 1 Peter Dooley.
Replacements: 16 Dave Heffernan, 17 Jordan Duggan, 18 Dominic Robertson-McCoy, 19 Darragh Murray, 20 Shamus Hurley-Langton, 21 Kieran Marmion, 22 Tom Daly, 23 Shane Jennings.

Edinburgh: 15 Emiliano Boffelli, 14 Darcy Graham, 13 Mark Bennett, 12 James Lang, 11 Damien Hoyland, 10 Blair Kinghorn, 9 Henry Pyrgos, 8 Viliame Mata, 7 Connor Boyle, 6 Ben Muncaster, 5 Grant Gilchrist (captain), 4 Sam Skinner, 3 Lee-Roy Atalifo, 2 Stuart McInally, 1 Boan Venter.
Replacements: 16 Dave Cherry, 17 Luan de Bruin, 18 WP Nel, 19 Marshall Sykes, 20 Glen Young, 21 Ben Vellacott, 22 Chris Dean, 23 Nathan Sweeney.

Referee: Ben Whitehouse (Wales)
Assistant referees: Chris Busby (Ireland), Paul Haycock (Ireland)
TMO: Sean Brickell (Wales)

Scarlets v Sharks
(Parc Y Scarlets, Llanelli – Kick-off: 17.00; 17.00 GMT; 19.00 SA time)

Prediction

@rugby365com: Sharks by five points

Teams

Scarlets: 15 Tom Rogers, 14 Steff Evans, 13 Joe Roberts, 12 Johnny Williams, 11 Ryan Conbeer, 10 Sam Costelow, 9 Gareth Davies, 8 Sione Kalamafoni, 7 Dan Davis, 6 Josh Macleod (captain), 5 Sam Lousi, 4 Vaea Fifita, 3 Javan Sebastian, 2 Shaun Evans, 1 Kemsley Mathias.
Replacements: 16 Taylor Davies, 17 Steff Thomas, 18 Sam Wainwright, 19 Morgan Jones, 20 Aaron Shingler, 21 Kieran Hardy, 22 Dan Jones, 23 Ioan Nicholas.

Sharks: 15 Boeta Chamberlain, 14 Werner Kok, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Rohan Janse van Rensburg, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Curwin Bosch, 9 Jaden Hendrikse, 8 Phendulani Buthelezi, 7 Vincent Tshituka, 6 Siyamthanda Kolisi (captain), 5 Emile van Heerden, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Thomas du Toit, 2 Mbongeni Mbonambi, 1 Retshegofaditswe Nché.
Replacements: 16 Kerron van Vuuren, 17 Ntuthuko Mchunu, 18 CarlĂĽ Sadie, 19 Gerbrandt Grobler, 20 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 21 Grant Williams, 22 Ben Tapuai, 23 Thaakir Abrahams.

Referee: Eoghan Cross (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Ian Davies (Wales), Jason Griffiths (Wales)
TMO: Leo Colgan (Ireland)

Munster v Glasgow Warriors
(Thomond Park, Limerick – Kick-off: 17.15; 17. 15 GMT)

Prediction

@rugby365com: Munster by 15 points

Teams

Munster: 15 Mike Haley, 14 Calvin Nash, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Jack Crowley, 11 Shane Daly, 10 Joey Carbery, 9 Paddy Patterson, 8 Gavin Coombes, 7 John Hodnett, 6 Jack O’Donoghue (captain), 5 Fineen Wycherley, 4 Jean Kleyn, 3 Roman Salanoa, 2 Diarmuid Barron, 1 Dave Kilcoyne.
Replacements: 16 Scott Buckley, 17 Josh Wycherley, 18 Stephen Archer, 19 Rudolf Snyman, 20 Alex Kendellen, 21 Craig Casey, 22 Rory Scannell, 23 Simon Zebo.

Glasgow Warriors: 15 Ollie Smith, 14 Cole Forbes, 13 Stafford McDowall (captain), 12 Sam Johnson, 11 Jamie Dobie, 10 Domingo Miotti, 9 Ali Price, 8 Sione Vailanu, 7 Rory Darge, 6 Matt Fagerson, 5 Scott Cummings, 4 Jean-Pierre du Preez, 3 Zander Fagerson, 2 Fraser Brown, 1 Nathan McBeth.
Replacements: 16 Johnny Matthews, 17 Allan Dell, 18 Lucio Sordoni, 19 Lewis Bean, 20 Alex Samuel, 21 Thomas Gordon, 22 George Horne, 23 Tom Jordan.

Referee: Andrea Piardi (Italy)
Assistant referees: Jonny Erskine (Ireland), Sam Holt (Ireland)
TMO: Matteo Liperini (Italy)

Ulster v Bulls
(Ravenhill Stadium, Belfast – Kick-off: 19.35; 19.35 GMT; 21.35 SA time)

Prediction

@rugby365com: Ulster by 16 points

Teams

Ulster: 15 Mike Lowry, 14 Rob Baloucoune, 13 James Hume, 12 Stewart Moore, 11 Jacob Stockdale, 10 Billy Burns, 9 Nathan Doak, 8 Duane Vermeulen (captain), 7 Nick Timoney, 6 David McCann, 5 Sam Carter, 4 Kieran Treadwell, 3 Jeff Toomaga-Allen, 2 Tom Stewart, 1 Andy Warwick.
Replacements: 16 John Andrew, 17 Eric O’Sullivan, 18 Gareth Milasinovich, 19 Alan O’Connor, 20 Harry Sheridan, 21 Marcus Rea, 22 John Cooney, 23 Jude Postlethwaite.

Bulls: 15 Kurt-Lee Arendse, 14 Canan Moodie, 13 Cornal Hendricks, 12 Harold Vorster, 11 David Kriel, 10 Chris Smith, 9 Izak Burger, 8 Elrigh Louw, 7 Cyle Brink, 6 Marco van Staden, 5 Ruan Nortje (captain), 4 Ruan Vermaak, 3 Mornay Smith, 2 Johan Grobbelaar, 1 Gerhard Steenekamp.
Replacements: 16 Bismarck du Plessis, 17 Simphiwe Matanzima, 18 Francois Klopper, 19 Janko Swanepoel, 20 WJ Steenkamp, 21 Embrose Papier, 22 Morné Steyn, 23 Stedman Gans.

Referee: Craig Evans (Wales)
Assistant referees: Andrew Cole (Ireland); Kieran Barry (Ireland)
TMO: Jon Mason (Wales)

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