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URC, quarterfinals - teams and predictions

SATURDAY PREVIEW: Benetton has to do what only one team, defending champions Munster, has achieved in the United Rugby Championship this season – win at Loftus Versfeld.

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They have already launched one onslaught on Fort Loftus, without success and now they head to the country’s capital in an attempt to do it in a quarterfinal.

To have the hurdle even taller, it is a Bulls team in form and playing an impressive brand of the game.

Bulls Director of Rugby Jake White said he was proud they managed to ditch the moniker as a ‘boring’ team that can only play ‘Jake ball’.

“Now we have the record for most points in a season and 85 tries,” he said.

“We have evolved,” he said adding: “However, we haven’t gone away from our ability to score maul tries and our scrum is incredibly strong.

White said his team can’t afford to look past this coming weekend, even though bookmakers have installed them as heavy favourites.

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“The message I gave the players is that we should not be worried about semifinals and finals,” White said, adding: “We have to do the job against Benetton.”

He also pointed out that in their Round 17 pool match at Loftus last month, the Italian side dominated the last quarter – showing just how dangerous they can be.

“That helped with our preparation this week,” the Bulls boss said.

He added that they will continue to focus on executing their own game and not get sidetracked by the potential threats the Italian outfit brings to the game.

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Benetton coach Marco Bortolami said the game will be decided among the forwards.

That is why he opted for a forwards-heavy bench, with a six-two split.

“I have opted to inject fresh and new energy in the starting team,” Bortolami said, adding: “The other boys will come off the bench to finish the job.

“We moved [Tommaso] Menoncello to the wing and [Malakai] Fekitoa in the centre to add the maximum physicality possible.

“Malakai gives us a lot of experience having already played matches of this caliber many times.

“I’m sure he will make a great contribution.”

With Benetton beating Edinburgh last week, Italy will also feature in a URC quarterfinal for the first time.

Benetton was on a two-match tour when they were in Pretoria in May and beat the Sharks the week before.

This time it is a once-off and they will be seeking a revenge victory.

(Jake White previews the URC quarterfinal …)

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* The other South African interest is at Scotstoun.

Glasgow Warriors’ South African coach Franco Smith knows his team has a 100 percent winning record against the Stormers at this multipurpose venue in the West End of Glasgow.

“The Stormers have a proud record in the URC play-offs, and we know they will be coming to Scotstoun intent on continuing that record,” Smith said.

“They have some brilliant individuals who can hurt you from anywhere on the field, in addition to being a physical unit with and without the ball.

“We’re looking forward to the challenge and know the Warrior Nation will make themselves known as they get behind us.”

Smith said ‘composure’ remains the key in big play-off games and he will lean heavily on his internationals – like Huw Jones, Sione Tuipulotu, captain Kyle Steyn, Matt Fagerson, Richie Gray and Zander Fagerson, to name a few.

“You have to construct your momentum,” he told @rugby365com, adding: “It is important to ensure you don’t get overexcited and caught up in the occasion.

“It is important to play in the right parts of the field and don’t concede points after you scored points.

“It is not just about winning with the ball, but also without it.”

Smith said the Stormers’ biggest threat is their ability top score from anywhere, which means you can’t afford to switch off for a single moment.

Stormers Director of Rugby John Dobson said they know that it will take a top performance to stay alive in this competition.

They are without two World Cup winners – Damian Willemse and Deon Four – due to injuries.

This is their first URC play-off match away from home.

Dobson said he doubts the Warriors will change their approach, just because it is a play-off.

“They will look to beat our line speed [on defence],” he told @rugby365com, adding: “They could use some dinks [chip-kicks] over the top or trying to go around us [out wide].

“Franco’s teams always play an attractive brand, so we are aware of their attacking threats.

“They are also good with their mauling.”

Veteran prop Brok Harris said this is one of the best Glasgow teams he has encountered – having played six years in Wales.

“Traditionally they were always a good mauling and scrumming side,” he told @rugby365com.

“Franco Smith has added that attacking edge.”

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* The other Saturday game will see an all-Irish derby between Leinster and Ulster in Dublin.

The Leinster team will be captained by James Ryan. who returns after having last started a game in the Round 17 loss to Ulster last month.

The matchday 23 has over 2,400 Leinster appearances, with 10 centurions selected in the squad

Former Ireland star Stephen Ferris says the pressure is on Leinster.

The Dublin-based province hasn’t won a trophy for three years and missed out once again by losing the Champions Cup Final to Toulouse after extra time last month.

Ferris believes there is a question mark over their mentality and says resurgent Ulster will be full of confidence after beating them twice already this season.

“If we had been having this conversation six weeks ago, I would have said Leinster were going to win by 30 or 40 points,” he said.

“But there is jeopardy now. There is a question over Leinster’s mentality and whether they can close big games out.

“The wait for a trophy goes on and on and on and the longer it goes on the more pressure that comes with that.

“Every team in this competition loves to beat Leinster because they have been the best, with four league titles in a row.

“With Ulster having beaten them twice already this season, that will give them huge confidence.”

* All Saturday’s teams and predictions follow below

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Bulls v Benetton
(Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria – Kick-off: 15.30; 13.30 GMT; 15.30 Italy time)

Head to head

Bulls v Benetton head to head

Prediction

@rugby365com: Bulls by 14 points

Bulls v Benetton prediction

Teams

Bulls: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Sebastian de Klerk, 13 David Kriel, 12 Harold Vorster, 11 Kurt-Lee Arendse, 10 Johan Goosen, 9 Embrose Papier, 8 Cameron Hanekom, 7 Elrigh Louw, 6 Nizaam Carr, 5 Ruan Nortje (captain), 4 Ruan Vermaak, 3 Wilco Louw, 2 Johan Grobbelaar, 1 Gerhard Steenekamp.
Replacements: 16 Akker van der Merwe, 17 Simphiwe Matanzima, 18 Francois Klopper, 19 Reinhardt Ludwig, 20 Jannes Kirsten, 21 Keagan Johannes, 22 Chris Smith, 23 Sergeal Petersen.

Benetton: 15 Rhyno Smith, 14 Tommaso Menoncello, 13 Ignacio Brex, 12 Malakai Fekitoa, 11 Onisi Ratave, 10 Tomas Albornoz, 9 Andy Uren, 8 Toa Halafihi, 7 Michele Lamaro (captain), 6 Alessandro Izekor, 5 Federico Ruzza, 4 Edoardo Iachizzi, 3 Simone Ferrari, 2 Bautista Bernasconi, 1 Thomas Gallo.
Replacements: 16 Gianmarco Lucchesi, 17 Mirco Spagnolo, 18 Giosué Zilocchi, 19 Eli Snyman, 20 Niccolò Cannone, 21 Lorenzo Cannone, 22 Alessandro Garbisi, 23 Jacob Umaga.

Referee: Mike Adamson (Scotland)
Assistant referees: Sam Grove-White (Scotland) and Adam Jones (Wales)
TMO: Ben Whitehouse (Wales)

Leinster v Ulster
(Lansdowne Road, Dublin – Kick-off: 17.00; 16.00 GMT)

Head to head

Leinster v Ulster head to head

Prediction

@rugby365com: Leinster by 12 points

Leinster v Ulster prediction

Teams

Leinster: 15 Jimmy O’Brien, 14 Jordan Larmour, 13 Robbie Henshaw, 12 Jamie Osborne, 11 James Lowe, 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 Rónan Kelleher, 17 Cian Healy, 18 Michael Ala’alatoa, 19 Ross Molony, 20 Max Deegan, 21 Luke McGrath, 22 Sam Prendergast, 23 Ciarán Frawley.

Ulster: 15 Stewart Moore, 14 Mike Lowry, 13 Will Addison, 12 Stuart McCloskey, 11 Jacob Stockdale, 10 Billy Burns, 9 John Cooney, 8 Nick Timoney, 7 David McCann, 6 Matty Rea, 5 Cormac Izuchukwu, 4 Harry Sheridan, 3 Tom O’Toole, 2 Rob Herring (captain), 1 Eric O’Sullivan.
Replacements: 16 Tom Stewart, 17 Andy Warwick, 18 Scott Wilson, 19 Greg Jones, 20 Dave Ewers, 21 Nathan Doak, 22 Ethan McIlroy, 23 Jude Postlethwaite.

Referee: Andrew Brace (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Craig Evans (Wales) and Eoghan Cross (Ireland)
TMO: Brain MacNeice (Ireland)

Glasgow Warriors v Stormers
(Scotstoun Stadium, Glasgow – Kick-off: 19.35; 18.35 GMT; 20.35 SA time)

Head to head

Glasgow v Stormers head to head 2

Prediction

@rugby365com: Glasgow Warriors by eight points

Glasgow v Stormers prediction

Teams

Glasgow: 15 Josh McKay, 14 Sebastian Cancelliere, 13 Huw Jones, 12 Sione Tuipulotu, 11 Kyle Steyn (captain), 10 Tom Jordan, 9 George Horne, 8 Jack Dempsey, 7 Rory Darge, 6 Matt Fagerson, 5 Richie Gray, 4 Scott Cummings, 3 Zander Fagerson, 2 Johnny Matthews, 1 Jamie Bhatti.
Replacements: 16 George Turner, 17 Nathan McBeth, 18 Oli Kebble, 19 Max Williamson, 20 Euan Ferrie, 21 Henco Venter, 22 Jamie Dobie, 23 Ross Thompson.

Stormers: 15 Warrick Gelant, 14 Suleiman Hartzenberg, 13 Dan du Plessis, 12 Sacha Feinberg-Mngomezulu, 11 Ben Loader, 10 Manie Libbok, 9 Herschel Jantjies, 8 Hacjivah Dayimani, 7 Ben-Jason Dixon, 6 Willie Engelbrecht, 5 Ruben van Heerden, 4 Salmaan Moerat (captain), 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Joseph Dweba, 1 Brok Harris.
Replacements: 16 Andre-Hugo Venter, 17 Sti Sithole, 18 Neethling Fouche, 19 Adre Smith, 20 Marcel Theunissen, 21 Connor Evans, 22 Paul de Wet, 23 Jean-Luc du Plessis.

Referee: Chris Busby (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Frank Murphy (Ireland) and Peter Martin (Ireland)
TMO: Mark Patton (Ireland)

@king365ed
@rugby365com

* Additional reporting by @URCOfficial

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