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URC, Round 13 - teams and predictions

FRIDAY PREVIEW: The Bulls are relishing the opportunity to ‘measure themselves’ against one of the greatest teams in the game, Leinster, in a top-of-the-table face-off in Dublin on Friday.

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The Irish province, which tops the United Rugby Championship standings, hosts their nearest rivals, the Bulls, at a sold-our RDS arena.

At the time of writing this article more than 17,000 tickets were sold for a venue with a capacity of 18,500 – 16,500 of which are seated.

The two rivals have a relatively brief history – Leinster comfortably winning the very first meeting between these sides in the inaugural season.

However, the Bulls upset Leinster in the 2022 semifinal and then scored what was a record defeat for Leinster at Loftus last season.

That Leinster side was significantly understrength – mainly an academy squad, but they have brought out all their big guns for Friday’s face-off.

Bulls Director of Rugby Jake White repeatedly stated that this is a good opportunity to measure themselves against a team of international standards – a Leinster that will see 11 players return from Ireland Six Nations duty to start at the RDS.

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There are a further five Irish internationals named among the replacements.

“They have more Test caps that our team has URC experience,” White told @rugby365com.

“That tells you something,” he said of their experience – a team that has mostly played against Tier One international teams and in World Cup matches.

“Not many teams have so many internationals at their disposal.

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“They are very good players,” White added – using veteran Irish loose forward Josh van der Flier, World Rugby Player of the Year in 2022.

It is not just their international experience.

Scrumhalf Luke McGrath captains a seasoned home side that boasts over 1,500 combined Leinster appearances in the starting line-up.

Jordan Larmour starts the game at fullback, with Rob Russell and James Lowe named on the wing.

Robbie Henshaw and Jamie Osborne are partnered in the centre, with Harry Byrne (flyhalf) joining McGrath in the halfbacks.

In the pack, Cian Healy will earn his 275th Leinster cap, moving within five appearances of Devin Toner’s record total of 280.

White said his team must ‘fire some shots’ at the RDS and not let Leinster dictate the terms.

“They are a good team,” the Bulls boss said, adding that Leinster is arguably the best team they have ever faced.

He called on his team to be ‘smart’ and not go toe-to-toe like a heavyweight boxer.

White said stopping Leinster from playing with rhythm is the key to success for the Bulls.

“That encapsulates a lot of other things,” he told @rugby365com, adding: “They are a team that is very, very good once they get rhythm and momentum.”

The Bulls boss admitted that set pieces and defence – as they were in their win over the Stormers earlier this month – will again have to be of ‘international’ standard.

“They have incredible set pieces and can tear you apart when they unleash their backs.

“Leinster is incredibly well organised,” he said of the seasoned Irish outfit.

He said Leinster will ask a lot more questions of the Bulls than the Stormers did four weeks ago, because of their experience.

“This is a great opportunity for us to measure ourselves against one of the strongest, in-form teams over the past couple of years,” White said.

“This will give me and the coaches a good chance to see where we have grown over the last couple of seasons.”

(Jake White previews Leinster versus Bulls …)

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Leinster coach Leo Cullen is banking on his Ireland internationals to deliver the goods.

“It’s always trying to get the balance, isn’t it,” Cullen said of bringing his internationals back.

“You have to respect what’s gone on in the last couple of months.

“If you think there is the Six Nations, which is probably the main event, and there’s the guys that have started and played a good chunk of those games.

“There’s what’s gone on before that in terms of guys having played a good bit of rugby before that as well, some guys hadn’t played that much leading into the Six Nations, so everyone is coming at it from a slightly different situation.

“We are looking at some different combinations.

“It’s a proper game for us, first against second in the league.”

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* The other Friday game is at the other end of the scale – the hapless Dragons host Zebre at Rodney Parade, in Newport.

They are last and second from last on the standings – just three wins in 24 matches between them.

Dragons coach Dai Flanagan said it is an important ‘home’ game.

“We must turn up to every game expecting to win, especially at Rodney Parade,” Flanagan said.

“The boys are up for it; everyone is excited and having a bit of a run of games at home as well is great.

“We want to put on the show.

“We were millimetres away from doing better things last weekend [against the Bulls] and we need to execute Friday to win the game.

“Our first task is to repeat physically where we were last week.”

Zebre coach Fabio Roselli said a win is vital for his team to move away from the basement.

“It will be a tough challenge, especially at Dragons’ home,” Roselli said.

“We welcome back the return of the international players, coming back from an excellent Six Nations with Italy.

“I’m sure they will bring their experience, enthusiasm and determination to this match as well.

“The important key will be the mental aspect.

“Our approach to the match must be one of great determination to dominate every sequence of the game, from the beginning to the end.”

All FRIDAY’s teams and predictions follow below

Dragons v Zebre
(Rodney Parade, Newport – Kick-off: 19.35; 19.35 GMT; 20.35 Italy time)

Prediction

@rugby365com: Dragons by eight points

Teams

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

Zebre: 15 Lorenzo Pani, 14 Pierre Bruno, 13 Franco Smith Jr, 12 Fetuli Paea, 11 Simone Gesi, 10 Tiff Eden, 9 Gonzalo Garcia, 8 Giovanni Licata (captain), 7 Iacopo Bianchi, 6 Davide Ruggeri, 5 Andrea Zambonin, 4 Leonard Krumov, 3 Juan Pitinari, 2 Giampietro Ribaldi, 1 Danilo Fischetti.
Replacements: 16 Luca Bigi, 17 Muhamed Hasa, 18 Ion Neculai, 19 David Sisi, 20 Josh Kaifa, 21 Alessandro Fusco, 22 Jacopo Trulla, 23 Guido Volpi.

Referee: Mike Adamson (Scotland)
Assistant referees: Adam Jones (Wales) and Carwyn Williams (Wales )
TMO: Andrew McMenemy (Scotland)

Leinster v Bulls
(RDS Arena, Dublin – Kick-off 19.35; 19.35 GMT; 21.35 SA Time)

Prediction

@rugby365com: Leinster by six points

Teams

Leinster: 15 Jordan Larmour, 14 Rob Russell, 13 Robbie Henshaw, 12 Jamie Osborne, 11 James Lowe, 10 Harry Byrne, 9 Luke McGrath (captain), 8 Jack Conan, 7 Josh van der Flier, 6 Ryan Baird, 5 Joe McCarthy, 4 Ross Molony, 3 Michael Ala’alatoa, 2 Rónan Kelleher, 1 Cian Healy.
Replacements: 16 Dan Sheehan, 17 Michael Milne, 18 Tadhg Furlong, 19 Jason Jenkins, 20 Caelan Doris, 21 Jamison Gibson-Park, 22 Ross Byrne, 23 Liam Turner.

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

Referee: Craig Evans (Wales)
Assistant referees: Chris Busby (Ireland) and Andy Fogarty (Ireland)
TMO: Ben Whitehouse (Wales)

@king365ed
@rugby365com

* Additional reporting by @URCOfficial

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