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URC Round 11 - teams and predictions

SATURDAY PREVIEW: The biggest game of the season, the North-South derby, will be played in front of the first sell-out crowd of the year.

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The Bulls will host the Stormers in their United Rugby Championship Round 11 encounter in front of a record 51,700 supporters in Pretoria on Saturday.

This is the first time in 12 years that a domestic derby featuring the Bulls at Loftus will be sold out.

It is also a tournament record for a fixture held in South Africa during the regular season and the second-highest crowd (ever) for a single URC game.

The increased interest shows the significance of the game – a potential South African Shield decider and a crucial game for two teams with ambitions of finishing in the top two of the tournament standings.

As Bulls Director of Rugby Jake White said on Friday: “It doesn’t get bigger than this.

“I am not sure if most of these players have ever played in front of a 50,000 crowd – apart from the Springboks and the World Cup winners,” White said in his pre-game analysis.

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“That, in itself, comes with a challenge for the young guys – who have never experienced it before.

“That is part of our coaching [duty], to pitch up when there are 50,000 [spectators] there.”

White said his team has come a long way since he started three years ago with a very young group – who has subsequently faced the Stormers in a URC Final and a semifinal in Cape Town and have gained tremendous experience from those encounters.

“The team grows – getting bigger, stronger and better. We are on that pathway,” the Bulls boss said, adding that the seven consecutive losses they suffered at the hands of the Stormers are irrelevant.

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“Our growth process must show an upward curve and I believe – if you look at our team, the way we play and add the calibre of players we are bringing in – we are in a very good place.

“I am excited for tomorrow [Saturday], really excited.

“I’m glad the players can play in front of a 50,000-strong crowd. That could be the catalyst for us to kick on in the next couple of seasons.”

He said he would use the game as a gauge of his team’s growth.

(Watch as Jake White previews the Loftus face-off…)

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Stormers captain Deon Fourie, who has played in many derbies, said the first 20 minutes will be key to the outcome.

“It is tough, helter-skelter, a lot of emotions in front of a big crowd,” the 37-year-old told @rugby365com, adding: “The stress will build and you just need that first contact to get into the game.

“The team that handles the first 20 or 30 minutes best and get into their rhythm will have a good game.

“It is vital how you respond to what is going on, on the field.”

The World Cup winner said it is great to see the game in South Africa picking up and getting sell-out crowds.

“We live for these moments and the game that you will remember.”

Stormers coach John Dobson said that his team is looking forward to what should be a great occasion.

“A North-South showdown at a packed Loftus Versfeld is something for everyone in South Africa to get excited about and we are looking forward to playing our part,” the seasoned coach said.

“It is great to have some of our Boks back for this one and while we would have loved to include Frans Malherbe too, he will unfortunately need a little longer to be at the peak of his considerable powers.

“There were some tough selection decisions to make for this game and the players involved are all up for what should be another classic,” he added.

Martin Anayi, United Rugby Championship CEO, said no bigger game is taking place on the planet this weekend.

“A sell-out crowd is befitting for a clash of these giant teams,” Anayi said.

“Huge credit goes to the Bulls, the Stormers.

“It takes the title as the second-highest ever attendance for a single game in the league’s history.

“It should be one hell of a spectacle.”

(John Dovson and Deon Fourie give their take on the bullring battle …)

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* The other South African derby has a lot less hype, but should also be an entertaining affair – the Lions looking to keep their play-off dream alive when they host the bottom-dwelling Sharks at Ellis Park.

The Lions are still smarting from their back-to-back losses to the Bulls and well aware of the significance of a victory to stay within range of the top eight teams – after dropping to five points behind the eighth-placed Ulster.

The Sharks, meanwhile, will give everything to change their fortunes after slumping to their ninth defeat in 10 matches in the last round despite a brave display against the Stormers – leaving the KwaZulu-Natalians rooted at the foot of the standings.

Lions defence coach Jaque Fourie said his team must “man up”, having leaked seven tries in the last two games and just 21 in the previous eight.

He said the high turnover count means they have been defending 80 percent of the time – with a tackle success rate of only 86 percent.

“There were many ‘slip tackles’, with players not in the right positions,” the Springbok legend said.

“We work on our system again and it is all about manning up and tackling the guy in front of you.

“Hopefully the guys, this weekend, will be up for the challenge.”

Captain Marius Louw said the high error rate in the last two defeats was “uncharacteristic” and they worked hard to fix their game.

His leadership has also ‘evolved’ since his arrival from the Sharks two years ago, saying that they worked of creating a “positive vibe” in the camp – which has had its share of internal strife.

“I am sure it [positivity] will be displayed in our performance,” he added.

This is an important game for the Durban side, desperate to move away from the tournament’s basement.

“This is a proud place, a proud province and we go into every game looking to represent this badge to the best of our abilities,” Sharks defence coach Joey Mongalo said.

“We want to see how far up [the table] we can finish, we want to challenge ourselves to climb from where we are at the moment and the way we do that is to continue to fight, to put in performances we can be proud of, that are the result of the efforts we put in during the week.”

Although there have been some tough times for the Sharks in this season’s tournament, the players have come together to change that.

“We’re in a space where the players are so connected, we know that they can look each other in the eye and say: ‘We stuck together’.

“We’re in a tough stage, a transition period and this is a time for us to show our courage and commitment.

“We want people to see that there is hope and ambition in this team, we want to be sure we represent ourselves well and to acknowledge our supporters.

“There’s enough evidence to show that this group is going somewhere and we take encouragement from that.

“Hopefully we will take steps forward and the close losses we’ve suffered this season will become wins.

“That will help to build confidence and take us towards where we want to be.”

All the Saturday (March 2) teams and predictions are below

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Lions v Sharks
(Ellis Park, Johannesburg – Kick-off: 15.00; 13.00 GMT)

Prediction

@Rugby365com: Lions by three points

Teams

Lions: 15 Quan Horn, 14 Richard Kriel, 13 Henco van Wyk, 12 Marius Louw (captain), 11 Edwill van der Merwe, 10 Jordan Hendrikse, 9 Sanele Nohamba, 8 Francke Horn, 7 Ruan Venter, 6 JC Pretorius, 5 Darrien Landsberg, 4 Etienne Oosthuizen, 3 Asenathi Ntlabakanye, 2 PJ Botha, 1 JP Smith.
Replacements: 16 Jaco Visagie, 17 Corne Fourie, 18 Conraad van Vuuren, 19 Reinhard Nothnagel, 20 Emmanuel Tshituka, 21 Hanru Sirgel, 22 Morné van den Berg, 23 Erich Cronje.

Sharks: 15 Aphelele Fassi, 14 Eduan Keyter, 13 Ethan Hooker, 12 Francois Venter, 11 Aphiwe Dyantyi, 10 Siya Masuku, 9 Grant Williams, 8 George Cronje, 7 Vince Tshituka, 6 James Venter, 5 Gerbrandt Grobler, 4 Corne Rahl, 3 Coenie Oosthuizen, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Ntuthuko Mchunu.
Replacements: 16 Fez Mbatha, 17 Dian Bleuler, 18 Khwezi Mona, 19 Jeandre Labuschagne, 20 Tino Mavesere, 21 Phepsi Buthelezi, 22 Tiaan Fourie, 23 Curwin Bosch.

Referee: Aimee Barrett-Theron (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Cwengile Jadezweni (South Africa) and Christopher Allison (South Africa)
TMO: Ben Crous (South Africa)

Benetton v Glasgow Warriors
(Stadio Monigo, Treviso – Kick-off: 16.00; 15.00 IRE & UK; 15.00 GMT)

Prediction

@Rugby365com: Glasgow by five points

Teams

Benetton: 15 Jacob Umaga, 14 Ignacio Mendy, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Marco Zanon, 11 Onisi Ratave, 10 Tomas Albornoz, 9 Alessandro Garbisi, 8 Toa Halafihi, 7 Giovanni Pettinelli, 6 Alessandro Izekor, 5 Eli Snyman, 4 Gideon Koegelenberg, 3 Simone Ferrari, 2 Siua Maile, 1 Thomas Gallo.
Replacements: 16 Federico Zani, 17 Ivan Nemer, 18 Tiziano Pasquali, 19 Riccardo Favretto, 20 Edoardo Iachizzi, 21 Henry Time-Stowers, 22 Andy Uren, 23 Giacomo Da Re.

Glasgow: 15 Josh McKay, 14 Sebastian Cancelliere, 13 Stafford McDowall (captain), 12 Tom Jordan, 11 Facundo Cordero, 10 Ross Thompson, 9 Jamie Dobie, 8 Henco Venter, 7 Thomas Gordon, 6 Euan Ferrie, 5 Alex Samuel, 4 Max Williamson, 3 Lucio Sordoni, 2 Johnny Matthews, 1 Nathan McBeth.
Replacements: 16 Gregor Hiddleston, 17 Allan Dell, 18 Oli Kebble, 19 Sintu Manjezi, 20 Ally Miller, 21 Angus Fraser, 22 Ben Afshar, 23 Duncan Weir.

Referee: Eoghan Cross (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Filippo Russo (Italy) and Alex Frasson (Italy)
TMO: Olly Hodges (Ireland)

Bulls v Stormers
(Loftus Versfeld Stadium, Pretoria – Kick-off: 17.05; 15.05 GMT)

Prediction

@Rugby365com: Bulls by five points

Teams

Bulls: 15 Devon Williams, 14 Kurt-Lee Arendse, 13 Stedman Gans, 12 David Kriel, 11 Canan Moodie, 10 Johan Goosen, 9 Embrose Papier, 8 Marcell Coetzee (cc), 7 Reinhardt Ludwig, 6 Marco van Staden, 5 Ruan Nortje (cc), 4 Ruan Vermaak, 3 Wilco Louw, 2 Johan Grobbelaar, 1 Gerhard Steenekamp.
Replacements: 16 Simphiwe Matanzima, 17 Akker van der Merwe, 18 Francois Kloppers, 19 JF van Heerden, 20 Nizaam Carr, 21 Zak Burger, 22 Willie Le Roux, 23 Mpilo Gumede.

Stormers: 15 Warrick Gelant, 14 Ben Loader, 13 Dan du Plessis, 12 Damian Willemse, 11 Leolin Zas, 10 Manie Libbok, 9 Herschel Jantjies, 8 Hacjivah Dayimani, 7 Evan Roos, 6 Deon Fourie (captain), 5 Ruben van Heerden, 4 Adre Smith, 3 Neethling Fouche, 2 Joseph Dweba, 1 Sti Sithole.
Replacements: 16 Andre-Hugo Venter, 17 Brok Harris, 18 Sazi Sandi, 19 Salmaan Moerat, 20 Ben-Jason Dixon, 21 Marcel Theunissen, 22 Paul de Wet, 23 Sacha Feinberg-Mngomezulu.

Referee: Marius van der Westhuizen (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Griffin Colby (South Africa) and Sean Muller (South Africa)
TMO: Marius Jonker (South Africa)

Connacht v Scarlets
(The Sportsground, Galway – Kick-off: 17.05; 17.05 GMT)

Prediction

@Rugby365com: Connacht by 12 points

Teams

Connacht: 15 Tiernan O’Halloran, 14 Byron Ralston, 13 David Hawkshaw, 12 Cathal Forde 11 Andrew Smith, 10 JJ Hanrahan, 9 Caolin Blade (captain), 8 Sean Jansen, 7 Shamus Hurley-Langton, 6 Cian Prendergast, 5 Gavin Thornbury, 4 Niall Murray, 3 Jack Aungier, 2 Eoin de Buitléar, 1 Peter Dooley.
Replacements: 16 Dave Heffernan, 17 Denis Buckley, 18 Sam Illo, 19 Oisín Dowling, 20 Sean O’Brien, 21 Michael McDonald, 22 Jack Carty, 23 Conor Oliver.

Scarlets: 15 Ioan Nicholas, 14 Tomi Lewis, 13 Johnny Williams, 12 Eddie James, 11 Steff Evans, 10 Dan Jones, 9 Efan Jones, 8 Vaea Fifita, 7 Dan Davis, 6 Sam Lousi (captain), 5 Jac Price, 4 Alex Craig, 3 Sam Wainwright, 2 Shaun Evans, 1 Wyn Jones.
Replacements: 16 Eduan Swart, 17 Steff Thomas, 18 Joe Jones, 19 Morgan Jones, 20 Ben Williams, 21 Archie Hughes, 22 Charlie Titcombe, 23 Ryan Conbeer.

Referee: Federico Vedovelli (Italy)
Assistant referees: Andrew Cole (Ireland) and Paul Haycock (Ireland)
TMO: Stefano Roscini (Italy)

Cardiff v Leinster
(Arms Park, Cardiff – Kick-off: 19.35; 19.35 GMT)

Prediction

@Rugby365com: Leinster by nine points

Teams

Cardiff: 15 Jacob Beetham, 14 Owen Lane, 13 Max Clark, 12 Ben Thomas, 11 Aled Summerhill, 10 Tinus de Beer, 9 Ellis Bevan, 8 Lopeti Timani, 7 Thomas Young, 6 Ellis Jenkins, 5 Josh Turnbull (captain), 4 Shane Lewis-Hughes, 3 Will Davies-King, 2 Liam Belcher, 1 Rhys Carré.
Replacements: 16 Dafydd Hughes, 17 Rhys Barratt, 18 Ciaran Parker, 19 Ben Donnell, 20 Alun Lawrence, 21 Lucas de la Rua, 22 Matthew Aubrey, 23 Willis Halaholo.

Leinster: 15 Jordan Larmour, 14 Liam Turner, 13 Jamie Osborne, 12 Harry Byrne, 11 Rob Russell, 10 Ross Byrne, 9 Luke McGrath, 8 Max Deegan, 7 Scott Penny (captain), 6 Will Connors, 5 Jason Jenkins, 4 Ross Molony, 3 Thomas Clarkson, 2 Lee Barron, 1 Jack Boyle.
Replacements: 16 John McKee, 17 Michael Milne, 18 Michael Ala’alatoa, 19 Brian Deeny, 20 Rhys Ruddock, 21 Ben Murphy, 22 Sam Prendergast, 23 Ben Brownlee.

Referee: Mike Adamson (Scotland)
Assistant referees: Ben Whitehouse (Wales) and Ben Breakspear (Wales)
TMO: Dave Sutherland (Scotland)

Ulster v Dragons
(Ravenhill, Belfast – Kick-off: 19.35; 19.35 GMT)

Prediction

@Rugby365com: Ulster by 15 points

Teams

Ulster: 15 Will Addison, 14 Ethan McIlroy, 13 James Hume (captain), 12 Jude Postlethwaite, 11 Mike Lowry, 10 Billy Burns, 9 John Cooney, 8 Nick Timoney, 7 Marcus Rea, 6 David McCann, 5 Harry Sheridan, 4 Cormac Izuchukwu, 3 Tom O’Toole, 2 Tom Stewart, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Replacements: 16 John Andrew, 17 Andrew Warwick, 18 Scott Wilson, 19 Kieran Treadwell, 20 Sean Reffell, 21 Nathan Doak, 22 Luke Marshall, 23 Jacob Stockdale.

Dragons: 15 Ewan Rosser, 14 Joe Westwood, 13 Steff Hughes (captain), 12 Aneurin Owen, 11 Corey Baldwin, 10 Will Reed, 9 Dane Blacker, 8 Taine Basham, 7 Harry Taylor, 6 Dan Lydiate, 5 Matthew Screech, 4 Sean Lonsdale, 3 Chris Coleman, 2 James Benjamin, 1 Rodrigo Martinez.
Replacements: 16 Brodie Coghlan, 17 Aki Seiuli, 18 Luke Yendle, 19 Barny Langton-Cryer, 20 George Nott, 21 Gonzalo Bertranou, 22 Harri Ackerman, 23 Huw Anderson.

Referee: Gianluca Gnecchi (Italy)
Assistant referees: Frank Murphy (Ireland), Andrew Fogarty (Ireland)
TMO: Matteo Liperini (Italy)

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