URC Round Two - teams and predictions
SATURDAY PREVIEW: Stormers coach John Dobson readily admits his team has a MASSIVE target on their proverbial backs.
As the defending United Rugby Championship champions, they are the team everyone wants to beat.
It all starts in Stellenbosch on Saturday, when they host tricky Irish province Connacht in their first competitive outing since lifting the trophy at the Cape Town Stadium on June 18.
At the same time as the action gets underway at the Danie Craven Stadium, the Bulls will be kicking off at Loftus Versfeld against Edinburgh, who won at the Sharks last season to become the first Northern Hemisphere side to triumph on the African continent in the URC.
Saturday’s action is rounded off by a clash between the Ospreys and the Lions in Swansea.
However, the spotlight will shine brightly on Stellenbosch, where Connacht is bidding to back up their status as one of only two European sides to win in South Africa last season.
Nicknamed The Westerners, the team from Galway beat the Lions 33-30 in Johannesburg last season.
Ironically, the last team to beat the Stormers was Connacht, in Galway on February 26 – before they went on a 10-match unbeaten run.
Dobson admitted their round one loss (10-36) to Ulster is not a reflection of the true strength of the Irish outfit.
They have been boosted for their trip to South Africa by the return of some of their biggest names.
Ireland internationals Bundee Aki, Mack Hansen and Finlay Bealham have all travelled with Connacht – with Jarrad Butler also in the mix after recovering from injury.
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“The Irish resting protocols have come to an end and they will be a very different team this week,” the Stormers coach said.
Dobson spoke of the “clever” and “attractive” rugby the Irish team played.
“They move the ball and are not a ‘one-off runner’ type team or a one-trick pony.
“They have a great fighting spirit and don’t go away easily.
“We should be okay in the set pieces, but their attack is a good, evolved attack. Defensively we will have to be on point.”
He added that the Stormers also no longer have the element of surprise.
“We have worked on evolving our game model,” Dobson said, adding: “We want to be faster, get our transitions better and be better at creating turnovers.”
“It is nothing like last year. We have to go to Ulster and Dublin. They won’t be rolling out the red carpet and the brass band for us.”
Connacht Director Of Rugby Andy Friend said his team had a “positive” build-up to the Stellenbosch outing.
“After arriving on Tuesday, we’ve managed to get the required training done and we’re in a good space heading into our game against the Stormers,” Friend said.
“I don’t believe that our performance against Ulster was reflective of all the hard work we’d put in during pre-season, and I’m very confident that we’ll deliver a much-improved performance on Saturday against last year’s champions.”
* Meanwhile, Bulls Director Of Rugby Jake White said it was good for his side to be able to start the new season on a winning note – easing away from the Lions in the end of a scrappy match.
He said they identified a few areas that they needed to work on this week, preparing for a ‘tough and talented’ Edinburgh side.
“We know how tough they are from our last meeting, where they beat us [last season],” White said.
“We will need to be at our best if we want to get a good result.
“We expect another tough encounter against a well-coached outfit.”
The Bulls boss said it can’t get any tougher than last year, when five of their first six games were away from home – getting one win and a solitary bonus point after that challenging start.
“We found a way to get into the Final,” he said, adding that with a bit of luck they could have finished top of the standings.
“It is much easier from a logistical and travel point of view.
“An afternoon [14.30] game at Loftus in warm weather is something the team is looking forward to.”
He said it would be a great test for his team against a side loaded with Scottish internationals.
“I want to see how good our tight forwards are against international tight forwards,” he said.
Edinburgh coach Mike Blair said it has been a good week of training in Cape Town.
“We’ve talked about the brilliant challenge of facing teams like the Bulls in their own backyard and that’s added another layer of motivation for us as a team,” Blair said.
“These are the games you want to be playing in, especially in one of the world’s great stadiums like Loftus.
“As we saw last season, the Bulls are a hugely physical side with try-scoring threats across the park.
“We know we need to be at our best this weekend, but we’re thrilled with the opportunity to once again represent Edinburgh and our supporters back home.”
* Lions forwards and line-outs coach Albert van den Berg spoke of the need for his team to eliminate ‘individual errors’ and avoid conceding ‘soft penalties’.
“We know that a team like Ospreys will capitalise on our errors,” the retired Springbok said.
“A big emphasis has been geared towards improving on a few technical aspects, especially in our line-out and scrums and to ensure everyone understands and executes their roles accurately.”
Ospreys coach Toby Booth said that, after their first season of being season exposed to the South African sides, they now have a greater understanding of what it takes to overcome sides from the Republic.
“We know what’s coming and we’re going to have to be good enough to deal with it,” Booth said.
“We’re looking forward to being back at home. It’s been a while and the first home game is always special so it’ll be great to see a lot of people come down and watch us.
“As we saw previously at the end of last year it really makes a difference so hopefully they’ll all come out and we’ll give them something to cheer about.”
All the SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 24, teams and predictions are below …
Scarlets v Ulster
(Parc y Scarlets, Llanelli – Kick-off: 13.00 Ireland & UK time; 14.00 Italian & SA time)
@rugby365com: Ulster by five points
Scarlets: 15 Ioan Nicholas, 14 Corey Baldwin, 13 Jonathan Davies (captain), 12 Johnny Williams, 11 Ryan Conbeer, 10 Sam Costelow, 9 Gareth Davies, 8 Sione Kalamafoni, 7 Josh Macleod, 6 Blade Thomson, 5 Sam Lousi, 4 Vaea Fifita, 3 Javan Sebastian, 2 Ryan Elias, 1 Steff Thomas.
Replacements: 16 Daf Hughes, 17 Sam O’Connor, 18 Harri O’Connor, 19 Tom Price, 20 Luca Giannini, 21 Kieran Hardy, 22 Dan Jones, 23 Rhys Patchell.
Ulster: 15 Michael Lowry, 14 Aaron Sexton, 13 Luke Marshall, 12 Stuart McCloskey, 11 Jacob Stockdale, 10 Billy Burns, 9 John Cooney, 8 Nick Timoney, 7 Marcus Rea, 6 Matty Rea, 5 Kieran Treadwell, 4 Alan O’Connor (captain), 3 Marty Moore, 2 Rob Herring, 1 Andy Warwick.
Replacements: 16 Declan Moore, 17 Eric O’Sullivan, 18 Tom O’Toole, 19 Sam Carter, 20 Sean Reffell, 21 Dave Shanahan, 22 Angus Curtis, 23 Craig Gilroy.
Referee: AJ Jacobs (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Mike English (Wales), Elliot Mayor (Wales)
TMO: Sam Grove-White (Scotland)
Bulls v Edinburgh
(Loftus Versfeld Stadium, Pretoria – Kick-off: 14.30; 13.30 Ireland & UK time)
@rugby365com: Bulls by 12 points
Bulls: 15 Johan Goosen, 14 Cornal Hendricks, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 David Kriel, 11 Stravino Jacobs, 10 Chris Smith, 9 Is ak Burger, 8 Elrigh Louw, 7 Ruan Vermaak, 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 Francois Klopper, 19 Janko Swanepoel, 20 Marco van Staden, 21 Embrose Papier, 22 Morné Steyn, 23 Stedman Gans.
Edinburgh: 15 Henry Immelman, 14 Darcy Graham, 13 Mark Bennett, 12 James Lang, 11 Damien Hoyland, 10 Blair Kinghorn, 9 Henry Pyrgos, 8 Viliame Mata, 7 Luke Crosbie, 6 Jamie Ritchie (cc), 5 Grant Gilchrist (cc), 4 Sam Skinner, 3 WP Nel, 2 Dave Cherry, 1 Pierre Schoeman.
Replacements: 16 Stuart McInally, 17 Boan Venter, 18 Luan de Bruin, 19 Marshall Sykes, 20 Hamish Watson, 21 Ben Vellacott, 22 Jaco van der Walt, 23 Chris Dean.
Referee: Adam Jones (Wales)
Assistant referees: Marius van der Westhuizen (South Africa), Griffin Colby (South Africa)
TMO: Sean Brickell (Wales)
Stormers v Connacht
(Danie Craven Stadium, Stellenbosch – Kick-off: 14.30; 13.30 Ireland & UK time)
@rugby365com: Stormers by 14 points
Stormers: 15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 Angelo Davids, 13 Suleiman Hartzenberg, 12 Dan du Plessis, 11 Seabelo Senatla, 10 Manie Libbok, 9 Paul de Wet, 8 Evan Roos, 7 Hacjivah Dayimani, 6 Junior Pokomela, 5 Marvin Orie, 4 Ernst van Rhyn (captain), 3 Brok Harris, 2 Andre-Hugo Venter, 1 Ali Vermaak.
Replacements: 16 Chad Solomon, 17 Kwenzo Blose, 18 Neethling Fouche, 19 Adré Smith, 20 Marcel Theunissen, 21 Willie Engelbrecht, 22 Godlen Masimla, 23 Sacha Mngomezulu.
Connacht: 15 Oran McNulty, 14 John Porch, 13 Byron Ralston, 12 Tom Farrell, 11 Mack Hansen, 10 Conor Fitzgerald, 9 Caolin Blade, 8 Paul Boyle, 7 Jarrad Butler, 6 Cian Prendergast, 5 Niall Murray, 4 Josh Murphy, 3 Finlay Bealham, 2 Dylan Tierney-Martin, 1 Denis Buckley.
Replacements: 16 Dave Heffernan, 17 Peter Dooley, 18 Jack Aungier, 19 Oisín Dowling, 20 Shamus Hurley-Langton, 21 Kieran Marmion, 22 Bundee Aki, 23 David Hawkshaw.
Referee : Gianluca Gnecchi (Italy)
Assistant referees: Morné Ferreira (South Africa), Stephan Guldenhuys (South Africa)
TMO: Matteo Liperini (Italy)
Ospreys v Lions
(Swansea Stadium, Swansea – Kick-off: 19.35 Ireland & UK time; 20.35 Italian & SA time)
@rugby365com: Ospreys by nine points
Ospreys: 15 Max Nagy, 14 Luke Morgan, 13 George North, 12 Michael Collins, 11 Keelan Giles, 10 Jack Walsh, 9 Rhys Webb, 8 Morgan Morris, 7 Justin Tipuric (captain), 6 Dan Lydiate, 5 Alun Wyn Jones, 4 Adam Beard, 3 Tomas Francis, 2 Scott Baldwin, 1 Nicky Smith.
Replacements: 16 Dewi Lake, 17 Garyn Phillips, 18 Tom Botha, 19 Rhys Davies, 20 Will Griffiths, 21 Jac Morgan, 22 Reuben Morgan Williams, 23 Joe Hawkins.
Lions: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Edwill van der Merwe, 13 Zander du Plessis, 12 Marius Louw, 11 Quan Horn, 10 Gianni Lombard, 9 Sanele Nohamba, 8 Francke Horn, 7 Emmanuel Tshituka, 6 Sibusiso Sangweni, 5 Reinhard Nothnagel (captain), 4 Ruben Schoeman, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Pieter Botha, 1 Sithembiso Sithole.
Replacements: 16 Jaco Visagie, 17 Jean-Pierre Smith, 18 Ruan Smith, 19 Pieter Jansen van Vuren, 20 Ruan Venter, 21 Morné van den Berg, 22 Jordan Hendrikse, 23 Sango Xamlashe.
Referee: Eoghan Cross (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Rhys Jones (Wales), Dai Cambourne (Wales)
TMO: Andrew McMenemy (Scotland)
SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 25
Dragons v Munster
(Rodney Parade, Newport – Kick-off: 15.00 Ireland & UK time; 16.00 Italian & SA time)
@rugby365com: Munster by five points
Dragons: 15 Angus O’Brien, 14 Rio Dyer, 13 Sio Tomkinson, 12 Jack Dixon, 11 Ashton Hewitt, 10 JJ Hanrahan, 9 Rhodri Williams, 8 Ross Moriarty, 7 Taine Basham, 6 Sean Lonsdale, 5 Will Rowlands (captain), 4 George Nott, 3 Lloyd Fairbrother, 2 Bradley Roberts, 1 Aki Seiuli.
Replacements: 16 Elliot Dee, 17 Rob Evans, 18 Chris Coleman, 19 Ben Carter, 20 Aaron Wainwright, 21 Lewis Jones, 22 Max Clark, 23 Jordan Williams.
Munster: 15 Mike Haley, 14 Keith Earls, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Dan Goggin, 11 Simon Zebo, 10 Ben Healy, 9 Craig Casey, 8 Jack O’Sullivan, 7 Peter O’Mahony (captain), 6 Jack O’Donoghue, 5 Fineen Wycherley, 4 Jean Kleyn, 3 Stephen Archer, 2 Niall Scannell, 1 Dave Kilcoyne.
Replacements: 16 Scott Buckley, 17 Liam O’Connor, 18 Keynan Knox, 19 Edwin Edogbo, 20 Tadhg Beirne, 21 Paddy Patterson, 22 Joey Carbery, 23 Liam Coombes.
Referee: Sam Grove-White (Scotland)
Assistant referees: Simon Rees (Wales), Aaron Parry (Wales)
TMO: Andrew McMenemy (Scotland)
* Additional reporting by @URCOfficial