URC Round Eight - teams and predictions
SATURDAY PREVIEW: You will not find a single bookmaker making a Welsh region favourite in any round-eight match this weekend.
That is because all four Welsh teams are playing in South Africa.
It started in Cape Town on Friday, with the Stormers hosting the Scarlets, before the Ospreys have to tackle the Bulls at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday.
On Sunday the Lions are at home (Ellis Park) to the Dragons, before the Sharks and Cardiff bring the curtain down on an intriguing weekend at Kings Park.
It is the Saturday roster we look at in this chapter of our preview, focusing on Loftus – where the beaten finalists from last season, the Bulls, will start as favourites.
The Bulls, on a two-match winning run since their (17-31) Round Five loss to Munster in Limerick, have won their last 10 matches at Loftus Versfeld.
They have also won all four previous matches they have played against Welsh regions in the URC.
In stark contrast, the Ospreys’ only victory in the URC since May was 32-17 at home to Glasgow Warriors on October 1 and they have won only once away from home in any competition in the last 12 months: 22-6 over Cardiff at the Arms Park on 23 April.
Ospreys have also not beaten a South African opponent since a 43-7 victory over Southern Kings in Port Elizabeth in April 2019.
The two sides’ only previous encounter was in Swansea in May, with the visitors running out 38-31 victors.
Ospreys coach Toby Booth described the Bulls as one of the ‘toughest’ teams they will face this year.
“The biggest challenge for us in this game is to prepare for the physicality of the Bulls and focus on how we deal with that,” Booth said.
The Bulls’ Director of Rugby, Jake White, pointed to the Osprey’s most recent encounter with a South African outfit – when they drew with the Stormers in Swansea on ?? – as a reason not to dismiss them as a serious threat.
“Whatever people say about them or the qualities of this team, they drew with the Stormers,” White told @rugby365com.
“I know they don’t have a few of their key players,” he said of the ?? who will do duty with Wales against Australia in Cardiff on Saturday.
“The national team is under pressure,” he said of a Wales team that lost to Georgia last week, adding: “They [the Ospreys players] will see it as an opportunity to put their hands up for the national team.”
Apart from their draw with the Stormers, White felt the Bulls were pushed really hard by Ospreys in Swansea earlier this year.
“I don’t foresee an easy game.”
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The other South African ‘interest’ on Saturday is the RDS in Dublin, where Springbok Franco Smith will look the claim another big scalp in his fledgling career as at coach of Glasgow Warriors.
He has been boosted by the return of nine players from Scotland duty.
“It is an opportunity to measure ourselves against a strong Leinster side,” Smith said.
“We were pleased with how we ended our last block of games with our win over Benetton and we plan to carry that momentum into this important block.
“This is the start of the next part of our journey as we continue to build our squad and our performances.”
All the teams and predictions for SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 26 follow below …
Bulls v Ospreys
(Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria – Kick-off: 15.00; 13.00 Ireland and UK time; 13.00 GMT)
@rugby365com: Bulls by nine points
Bulls: 15 Wandisile Simelane, 14 David Kriel, 12 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Harold Vorster, 11 Stravino Jacobs, 10 Chris Smith, 9 Embrose Papier, 8 Elrigh Louw, 7 WJ Steenkamp, 6 Nizaam Carr, 5 Ruan Nortje (captain), 4 Janko Swanepoel, 3 Francois Klopper, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Gerhard Steenekamp.
Replacements: 16 Jan-Hendrik Wessels, 17 Simphiwe Matanzima, 18 Mornay Smith, 19 Ruan Vermaak, 20 Cyle Brink, 21 Izak Burger, 22 Morné Steyn, 23 Marco Jansen van Vuren.
Ospreys: 15 Max Nagy, 14 Luke Morgan, 13 Tiaan Thoas-Wheeler, 12 Keiran Williams, 11 Keelan Giles, 10 Jack Walsh, 9 Rhys Webb (captain), 8 Morgan Morris, 7 Will Hickey, 6 Ethan Roots, 5 Huw Sutton, 4 Bradley Davies, 3 Tom Botha, 2 Scott Baldwin, 1 Garyn Phillips.
Replacements: 16 Sam Parry, 17 Rhys Henry, 18 Ben Warren, 19 James Fender, 20 Jack Regan, 21 Reuben Morgan-Williams, 22 Luke Scully, 23 Cai Evans.
Referee: Ben Blain (Scotland)
Assistant referees: Cwengile Jadezweni (South Africa), Griffin Colby (South Africa)
TMO: Sam Grove-White (Scotland)
Referee: Ben Blain (Scotland)
Assistant referees: Cwengile Jadezweni (South Africa) & Griffin Colby (South Africa)
TMO: Sam Grove-White (Scotland)
Benetton v Edinburgh
(Stadio Monigo, Treviso – Kick-off: 14.00; 13.00 Ireland & UK time; 13.00 GMT)
@rugby365com: Edinburgh by seven points
Benetton: 15 Rhyno Smith, 14 Marcus Watson, 13 Ignacio Brex, 12 Marco Zanon, 11 Matteo Minozzi, 10 Tomas Albornoz, 9 Dewaldt Duvenage (captain), 8 Lorenzo Cannone, 7 Manuel Zuliani, 6 Sebastian Negri, 5 Federico Ruzza, 4 Niccolò Cannone, 3 Simone Ferrari, 2 Gianmarco Lucchesi, 1 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro.
Replacements: 16 Giacomo Nicotera, 17 Ivan Nemer, 18 Tiziano Pasquali, 19 Scott Scrafton, 20 Giovanni Pettinelli, 21 Alessandro Garbisi, 22 Jacob Umaga, 23 Tommaso Menoncello.
Edinburgh: 15 Henry Immelman, 14 Damien Hoyland, 13 Matt Currie, 12 James Lang, 11 Wes Goosen, 10 Charlie Savala, 9 Henry Pyrgos, 8 Ben Muncaster, 7 Luke Crosbie (captain), 6 Nick Haining, 5 Jamie Hodgson, 4 Marshall Sykes, 3 Angus Williams, 2 Stuart McInally, 1 Boan Venter.
Replacements: 16 Patrick Harrison, 17 Jamie Jack, 18 Lee Roy Atalifo, 19 Glen Young, 20 Connor Boyle, 21 Ben Vellacott, 22 Jaco van der Walt, 23 Chris Dean.
Referee: Craig Evans (Wales)
Assistant referees: Filippo Russo (Italy), Alex Frasson (Italy)
TMO: Jon Mason (Wales)
Leinster v Glasgow Warriors
(RDS Arena, Dublin – Kick-off: 15.15; 15.15 GMT)
@rugby365com: Leinster by 16 points
Leinster: 15 Jamie Osborne, 14 Rob Russell, 13 Liam Turner, 12 Charlie Ngatai, 11 Dave Kearney, 10 Ross Byrne, 9 Luke McGrath, 8 Max Deegan, 7 Scott Penny, 6 Rhys Ruddock (captain), 5 Joe McCarthy, 4 Ross Molony, 3 Thomas Clarkson, 2 Ronan Kelleher, 1 Ed Byrne.
Replacements: 16 John McKee, 17 Michael Milne, 18 Vakhtang Abdaladze, 19 Jason Jenkins, 20 Ryan Baird, 21 Cormac Foley, 22 Harry Byrne, 23 Chris Cosgrave.
Glasgow Warriors: 15 Josh McKay, 14 Sebastian Cancelliere, 13 Kyle Steyn (captain), 12 Stafford McDowall, 11 Rufus McLean, 10 Tom Jordan, 9 George Horne, 8 Jack Dempsey, 7 Sione Vailanu, 6 Gregor Brown, 5 Alex Samuel, 4 Sintu Manjezi, 3 Murphy Walker, 2 Fraser Brown, 1 Oliver Kebble.
Replacements: 16 Johnny Matthews, 17 Jamie Bhatti, 18 Simon Berghan, 19 Jean-Pierre du Preez, 20 Lewis Bean, 21 Euan Ferrie, 22 Jamie Dobie, 23 Ross Thompson.
Referee: Marius van der Westhuizen (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Keane Davison (Ireland), Andy Fogarty (Ireland)
TMO: AJ Jacobs (South Africa)
Munster v Connacht
(Thomond Park, Limerick – Kick-off: 19.35; 19.35 GMT)
@rugby365com: Munster by seven points
Munster: 15 Mike Haley, 14 Calvin Nash, 13 Antoine Frisch, 12 Rory Scannell, 11 Shane Daly, 10 Joey Carbery, 9 Craig Casey, 8 Alex Kendellen, 7 John Hodnett, 6 Peter O’Mahony (captain), 5 Tadhg Beirne, 4 Jean Kleyn, 3 Roman Salanoa, 2 Diarmuid Barron, 1 Josh Wycherley.
Replacements: 16 Niall Scannell, 17 Jeremy Loughman, 18 John Ryan, 19 Edwin Edogbo, 20 Jack O’Donoghue, 21 Paddy Patterson, 22 Jack Crowley, 23 Gavin Coombes.
Connacht: 15 John Porch, 14 Byron Ralston, 13 Tom Farrell, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 Alex Wootton, 10 Jack Carty (captain), 9 Caolin Blade, 8 Jarrad Butler, 7 Conor Oliver, 6 Cian Prendergast, 5 Gavin Thornbury, 4 Josh Murphy, 3 Finlay Bealham, 2 Dave Heffernan, 1 Denis Buckley.
Replacements: 16 Shane Delahunt, 17 Peter Dooley, 18 Jack Aungier, 19 Niall Murray, 20 Oisín Dowling, 21 Kieran Marmion, 22 Conor Fitzgerald, 23 Paul Boyle.
Referee: Gianluca Gnecchi (Italy)
Assistant referees: Paul Haycock (Ireland), Jonny Erskine (Ireland)
TMO: Andrew McMenemy (Scotland)
* Additional reporting by @URCOfficial