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URC Round 12 - Teams and Predictions

SATURDAY PREVIEW: The Bulls are at the start of a crucial fortnight of United Rugby Championship matches, as they look to cement their place in the top two on the standings.

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Having home-ground advantage is a well-documented fact and the reason why Bulls Director of Rugby Jake White has put a premium on winning against the Dragons on Saturday.

Having not lost at home in any competition this season, they now need to start improving their away record – which stands at five wins and four defeats.

“You want to stay near the top [of the standings] and you want home play-offs – which are vital,” White said.

They have seven URC league matches remaining – away matches to the Dragons and Leinster, followed by a block of four home matches against Munster, Ospreys, Glasgow Warriors and Benetton.

They complete their league fixtures against the Sharks in Durban.

“We have to do as well as we can away from Loftus to give ourselves a fair crack at getting a home semifinal and possible Final.”

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The added challenge is that they travel from a balmy Pretoria (where the temperature is mostly in the mid-to-high-20°C) to the very chilly Newport (3°C at kick-off and a chance of rain).

White said they are prepared for the dramatic change in conditions.

“Rodney Parade is a very open ground,” he said, adding: “The wind is a massive factor.

“It is something we have spoken about – the different situations and conditions we may encounter.”

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The Bulls boss, White, was not comfortable with the ‘favourites’ tag, saying it is always difficult to win away from home.

Both teams last played on March 2 – Round 11 of the URC.

However, unlike the Bulls – who were disrupted by Springbok alignment camp duties – the Dragons had three weeks to prepare for Saturday’s Newport scrimmage.

“They will be a well-prepared team,” White said of the Welsh opposition.

He added that it is great his players are getting recognition by being called up to alignment camps, but now they need top focus on their ‘jobs at the Bulls’.

Dragons coach Dai Flanagan described the Bulls as “one of the favourites for the league”.

“We know the challenge we are facing,” Flanagan said.

“They’ve got a style of play that all 15 players buy into.

“They’ve got size, speed, skill set – they’re a formidable test.

“We’ve got to match them in all aspects of the game and capitalise on opportunities, which we haven’t always done this season. We’re looking forward to getting back to Rodney Parade.

“We’ve been decent at home, have won three of the last four, and we want to put on a show and get people excited in Gwent again.

“Physically, like you have seen with Wales and the Welsh clubs, we have some work to do.

“Realistically, we’re probably never going to have the same potential in our group as South African teams and even Irish teams, in terms of size.

“What we must be is smart, whether that’s moving the ball, playing a little bit more condensed with shorter passes or widening the pitch, kicking less or kicking more.

“That’s our job as coaches, to find solutions.

“We can always just say they’re bigger, they’re quicker, they’re stronger.

“Sometimes you can’t change that. Our job is to decide what we are going to be good at.”

(Jake White previews the Dragons versus Bulls …)

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* The other South African team with ambitions of an elevated finish in the final run-in to the play-offs is the Stormers – currently ninth, but just four points behind fourth-placed Edinburgh, who they will host in Cape Town on Saturday.

They have a run of home games – the face-off against Edinburgh is followed by encounters with Ulster, Ospreys and Leinster (all in Cape Town). Two more away matches are followed by a home encounter with the Lions.

Between the Ulster and Ospreys games, there is a two-week block of European Cup matches – with two-time defending champions Stade Rochelais arriving in the Mother City on April 6 for a Round of 16 match.

Stormers coach John Dobson cautioned against looking ahead to the massive Champions Cup fixture against the French giants and then stumbling in the URC because their focus is elsewhere.

“These are absolutely critical,” he said of the next fortnight’s encounters with Edinburgh and Ulster.

Even with just four points separating the teams in fourth and 10th place ion the standings, night place (outside the play-off zone) is not the lofty standards they have set in the last few years.

“While La Rochelle will be a great occasion and nice to have, this is do-or-die stuff,” he said of the URC fixtures.

Dobson pointed to two aspects of their game that have required urgent attention since their 22-40 loss to the Bulls a fortnight ago.

“Loftus confirmed some of the stuff we have known about ourselves for a while,” Dobson told @rugby365com.

“Our maul defence is very erratic – we are either very good or we travel, get done.

“All the games we have lost in the URC, including last year’s Final, maul defence was inconsistent.”

Dobson also spoke of their troubles in dealing with contestable kicks – another issue that cost them dearly at Loftus earlier this month.

“We are not going to win the URC or be at the sharp-end of the tournament if we don’t fix those two aspects,” he told @rugby365com.

Saturday is also a huge occasion for South African-born prop WP Nel, who reaches a major career landmark on his return to the land where he was born and raised.

The Scotland tighthead will make his 200th appearance for Edinburgh when he steps out on the field in Cape Town.

It was way back in 2012 when he arrived from the Bloemfontein-based Cheetahs.

He has gone on to establish himself as a legend in the Scottish capital and a key figure for Scotland, winning more than 60 caps since qualifying on residency.

He will now become just the third player to bring up a double century for Edinburgh, following in the footsteps of Chris Paterson and Allan Jacobsen.

Edinburgh coach Sean Everitt sang the praises of his fellow South African.

“We’re delighted to see WP hit 200 appearances for Edinburgh,” the former Sharks coach said.

“He’s an Edinburgh legend and it’ll be an extremely proud moment for him and his family when he takes to the pitch at tomorrow [Saturday].

“This team doesn’t need any added motivation, but I’ve got no doubt they’ll be playing with a bit of extra fire to make it a special day for WP.”

Everitt is also welcoming back experienced, quality players like Sam Skinner and Ben Healy, who are both real leaders.

“The boys have worked tirelessly since arriving in Cape Town at the start of the week and we’re raring to go for what is always a massive challenge.”

(John Dobson previews Stormers versus Edinburgh…)

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* At the other end of the scale the bottom-of-the-table Sharks have a number of Springbok stars on board.

Centre Lukhanyo Am, lock Eben Etzebeth and wing Makazole Mapimpi are all returning to join hooker Bongi Mbonambi in the starting line-up, while prop Ox Nche is on the bench.

Another World Cup winner Vincent Koch returns from a post-World Cup injury lay-off and will join Nche on the bench.

“This is a team I’ve been wanting to select for a while,” said Sharks coach John Plumtree.

“We are getting our squad back.

“We just want to get going with a good performance.

“We are also looking to create some competition in the squad.

“There hasn’t really been enough pressure on players for selection.

“That makes players comfortable and complacent.

“A full-strength Sharks has competition for places and that’s what we want.

“We’ve got three months of the season left.

“We see it as a really exciting time for us.”

Having completed his Six Nations duties with Ireland Under-20, Ulster’s interim coach Richie Murphy is at the helm for the first time as the province undertake their two-match tour of South Africa.

The 54-year-old has stepped into the role in the wake of the departure of Dan McFarland last month.

Giving his thoughts on taking on the job, former Ireland assistant coach Murphy said: “It’s an absolute honour and a privilege, considering the history behind Ulster.

“I always enjoyed coming to Ravenhill when I was part of the senior management.

“It’s a special place to be, especially when the crowd gets in behind the lads.

“My focus is on trying to help the guys move their rugby on a little bit over the next couple of weeks and try and build a little bit of momentum on the back of the win over the Dragons.”

(Braai advice from Eben Etzebeth …)

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* The Lions, 11th on the standings and just three points outside the play-off zone, travel to Galway to tackle a Connacht team in seventh place, four points ahead of them.

Lions coach Ivan van Rooyen said Saturday’s outing at the Sportsground and next week’s trip to Swansea, where they face Ospreys, are vital to keep alive their dream of a URC play-off spot.

“We all know how tough Connacht is in Galway,” he said of a side whose only home loss this season was against the table-topping Irish powerhouse Leinster.

Scrum coach Julian Redelinghuys said the Lions tend to travel well.

“It’s also a nice opportunity to bond as a squad,” Redelinghuys said.

“Coming off a win against the Sharks two weeks ago also bodes well for team spirit.”

Connacht Head Coach Pete Wilkins said Saturday marks the start of a huge block of games for the Irish province in both in the URC and Challenge Cup.

“We navigated through the Six Nations period with the two wins we needed, so now we want to build on that for the remainder of the season.

“The Lions are getting stronger with every year they’re in this competition, and they’re one of the strongest South African sides away from home.

“So we’re fully aware of the challenge ahead, and the need for us to be at the top of our game to get the win.”

All Saturday’s teams and predictions follow below ...

Sharks v Ulster
(Kings Park, Durban – Kick-off: 15.00; 13.00 UK & Ireland time; 13.00 GMT)

Prediction

@rugby365com: Ulster by five points

Teams

Sharks: 15 Aphelele Fassi, 14 Eduan Keyter, 13 Lukhanyo Am (captain), 12 Ethan Hooker, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Siya Masuku, 9 Jaden Hendrikse, 8 George Cronje, 7 Vincent Tshituka, 6 Phepsi Buthelezi, 5 Gerbrandt Grobler, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Hanro Jacobs, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Ntuthuko Mchunu.
Replacements: 16 Kerron van Vuuren, 17 Ox Nche, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 Corne Rahl, 20 Jeandre Labuschagne, 21 Cameron Wright, 22 Curwin Bosch, 23 Francois Venter.

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

Referee: Ben Whitehouse (Wales)
Assistant referees: Cwengile Jadezweni (South Africa), Griffin Colby (South Africa)
TMO: Colin Brett (Scotland)

Scarlets v Benetton
(Parc Y Scarlets, Llanelli – Kick-off: 15.00; 15.00 GMT; 16.00 CET)

Prediction

@rugby365com: Benetton by three points

Teams

Scarlets: 15 Ioan Lloyd, 14 Tom Rogers, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Johnny Williams, 11 Tomi Lewis, 10 Sam Costelow, 9 Gareth Davies (captain), 8 Vaea Fifita, 7 Dan Davis, 6 Teddy Leatherbarrow, 5 Sam Lousi, 4 Alex Craig, 3 Harri O’Connor, 2 Shaun Evans, 1 Kemsley Mathias.
Replacements: 16 Eduan Swart, 17 Wyn Jones, 18 Sam Wainwright, 19 Morgan Jones, 20 Carwyn Tuipulotu, 21 Kieran Hardy, 22 Eddie James, 23 Steff Evans.

Benetton: 15 Rhyno Smith, 14 Ignacio Mendy, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Filippo Drago, 11 Onisi Ratave, 10 Jacob Umaga, 9 Andy Uren, 8 Lorenzo Cannone, 7 Toa Halafihi, 6 Alessandro Izekor, 5 Eli Snyman (captain), 4 Iachizzi Edoardo, 3 Simone Ferrari, 2 Siua Maile, 1 Federico Zani.
Replacements: 16 Bautista Bernasconi, 17 Ivan Nemer, 18 Tiziano Pasquali, 19 Riccardo Favretto, 20 Manuel Zuliani, 21 Alessandro Garbisi, 22 Tomas Albornoz, 23 Leonardo Marin.

Referee: Chris Busby (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Rhys Jones (Wales), Elliot Mayor (Wales)
TMO: Frank Murphy (Ireland)

Stormers v Edinburgh
(Cape Town Stadium, Cape Town – Kick-off: 17.05; 15.05 UK & Ireland time; 15.05 GMT)

Prediction

@rugby365com: Stormers by nine points

Teams

Stormers: 15 Damian Willemse, 14 Suleiman Hartzenberg, 13 Wandisile Simelane, 12 Dan du Plessis, 11 Leolin Zas, 10 Manie Libbok, 9 Paul de Wet, 8 Evan Roos, 7 Ben-Jason Dixon, 6 Nama Xaba, 5 Ruben van Heerden, 4 Salmaan Moerat (captain), 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Andre-Hugo Venter, 1 Brok Harris.
Replacements: 16 Joseph Dweba, 17 Lizo Gqoboka, 18 Neethling Fouche, 19 Connor Evans, 20 Hacjivah Dayimani, 21 Herschel Jantjies, 22 Jurie Matthee, 23 Ben Loader.

Edinburgh: 15 Emiliano Boffelli, 14 Wes Goosen, 13 Mark Bennett, 12 Matt Currie, 11 Jake Henry, 10 Ben Healy, 9 Ben Vellacott (captain), 8 Viliame Mata, 7 Hamish Watson, 6 Ben Muncaster, 5 Sam Skinner, 4 Jamie Hodgson, 3 WP Nel, 2 Dave Cherry, 1 Boan Venter.
Replacements: 16 Patrick Harrison, 17 Luan de Bruin, 18 Javan Sebastian, 19 Marshall Sykes, 20 Tom Dodd, 21 Charlie Shiel, 22 Cammy Scott, 23 Chris Dean.

Referee: Adam Jones (Wales)
Assistant referees: AJ Jacobs (South Africa), Hanru van Rooyen (South Africa)
TMO: Sean Brickell (Wales)

Connacht v Lions
(The Sportsground, Galway – Kick-off: 17.15; 17.15 GMT; 19.15 SAST)

Prediction

@rugby365com: Connacht by 15 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 O’Brien, 7 Conor Oliver, 6 Cian Prendergast, 5 Joe Joyce, 4 Niall Murray, 3 Jack Aungier, 2 Tadgh McElroy, 1 Denis Buckley.
Replacements: 16 Dave Heffernan, 17 Jordan Duggan, 18 Sam Illo, 19 Darragh Murray, 20 Shamus Hurley-Langton, 21 Colm Reilly, 22 Jack Carty, 23 Paul Boyle.

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

Referee: Craig Evans (Wales)
Assistant referees: Robbie Jenkinson (Ireland), Oisin Quinn (Ireland)
TMO: Greg Morgan (Wales)

Zebre Parma v Leinster
(Stadio Lanfranchi, Parma – Kick-off: 20.35; 19.35 UK & Ireland time; 19.35 GMT)

Prediction

@rugby365com: Leinster by 18 points

Teams

Zebre: 15 Jacopo Trulla, 14 Scott Gregory, 13 Luca Morisi, 12 Fetuli Paea, 11 Simone Gesi, 10 Geronimo Prisciantelli, 9 Gonzalo Garcia, 8 Giovanni Licata (captain), 7 Iacopo Bianchi, 6 Davide Ruggeri, 5 Leonard Krumov, 4 David Sisi, 3 Juan Pitinari, 2 Giampietro Ribaldi, 1 Muhamed Hasa.
Replacements: 16 Tommaso Di Bartolomeo, 17 Luca Rizzoli, 18 Riccardo Genovese, 19 Matteo Canali, 20 Josh Kaifa, 21 Alessandro Fusco, 22 Damiano Mazza, 23 Pierre Bruno.

Leinster: 15 Ciarán Frawley, 14 Rob Russell, 13 Liam Turner, 12 Jamie Osborne, 11 Andrew Osborne, 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 Ed Byrne.
Replacements: 16 John McKee, 17 Michael Milne, 18 Michael Ala’alatoa, 19 Brian Deeny, 20 Diarmuid Mangan, 21 Fintan Gunne, 22 Sam Prendergast, 23 Henry McErlean.

Referee: Morné Ferreira (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Andrea Piardi (Italy), Dante D’Elia (Italy)
TMO: Marius Jonker (South Africa)

Dragons v Bulls
(Rodney Parade, Newport – Kick-off: 19.35; 19.35 GMT; 21.35 SAST)

Prediction

@rugby365com: Bulls by 15 points

Teams

Dragons: 15 Cai Evans, 14 Ewan Rosser, 13 Joe Westwood, 12 Steff Hughes (captain), 11 Corey Baldwin, 10 Will Reed, 9 Rhodri Williams, 8 Taine Basham, 7 Sean Lonsdale, 6 Dan Lydiate, 5 George Nott, 4 Matthew Screech, 3 Chris Coleman, 2 Brodie Coghlan, 1 Rhodri Jones.
Replacements: 16 Elliot Dee, 17 Rodrigo Martinez, 18 Luke Yendle, 19 Ben Carter, 20 Harri Keddie, 21 Aaron Wainwright, 22 Dane Blacker, 23 Jared Rosser.

Bulls: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Sebastian de Klerk, 13 Canan Moodie, 12 Harold Vorster, 11 Kurt-Lee Arendse, 10 Chris Smith, 9 Izak Burger, 8 Marcell Coetzee, 7 Mpilo Gumede, 6 Marco van Staden, 5 Ruan Nortje (captain), 4 Ruan Vermaak, 3 Wilco Louw, 2 Jan-Hendrik Wessels, 1 Gerhard Steenekamp.
Replacements: 16 Johan Grobbelaar, 17 Simphiwe Matanzima, 18 Mornay Smith, 19 Reinhardt Ludwig, 20 Nizaam Carr, 21 Embrose Papier, 22 Johan Goosen, 23 Devon Williams.

Referee: Eoghan Cross (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Ben Breakspear (Wales), Elgan Williams (Wales)
TMO: Mark Patton (Ireland)

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