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URC, Round 14 - teams and predictions

FRIDAY PREVIEW: As the United Rugby Championship returns this weekend, the pressure to secure the best possible position is mounting with just five rounds remaining before the quarterfinals

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On Friday there are two games – Ulster welcome Cardiff to Belfast and Glasgow Warriors host the Sharks in Scotland.

Glasgow Warriors are second on the URC log, four points ahead of the third-placed Bulls.

The Pretoria-based franchise might have been hoping that maybe their countrymen, the Sharks would help them out by knocking Glasgow Warriors over on Friday.

But while that might have been a possibility with the full-strength Sharks team, it appears that the need to be fresh for their EPCR Challenge Cup semifinal on May 4 has overridden other considerations for the Durbanites.

John Plumtree has opted to rest a couple of key figures for Friday’s showdown.

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World Cup-winning Springboks Eben Etzebeth, Jaden Hendrikse, Lukhanyo Am, Makazole Mapimpi, Ox Nche and Bongi Mbonambi are some names missing from the squad. Aphelele Fassi and James Venter are the other stars who have stayed in Durban.

However, it is still a very experienced team that features the likes of Francois Venter, Aphiwe Dyantyi, 2023 World Cup winner Grant Williams, Curwin Bosch and Vincent Koch on the bench.

“We are playing against one of the best sides in the competition at home, so it’s going to be a massive challenge for this group that I have selected,” Sharks head coach John Plumtree told reporters after the team announcement.

“They are looking forward to it. There is a mixture of some senior players and quite a few young guys.

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“We had a good week and it’s going to be interesting to see how the players will perform against a very tough team.”

Plumtree revealed that Springbok Etzebeth is recovering from a rib injury and reiterated that they need much-needed rest.

“The players we left back in Durban had massive workloads the last couple of games.

“If you look at Etzebeth, he has a massive workload throughout the year, especially with the Springboks, so managing his game time is important.

“Etzebeth has had a rib injury so it’s going to take a week for him to feel better, Fassi and Venter all had big workloads.

“We also playing on a 5g surface which is naturally a little bit harder on the limbs so we just decided to give those boys extra conditioning in Durban.

“However this is an opportunity for guys who have not played for a while.”

Plumtree admitted Glasgow at home is a very different animal. Glasgow are unbeaten at home this season and their flawless home record against SA teams is another obstacle that counts against the Sharks.

“They have something going here that is working well,” the Kiwi coach said.

“They play a very different game. They keep the ball for long periods instead of kicking it so that it will be a real test for our defence.”

Franco Smith’s Glasgow will not lack any motivation as they seek to cement the second spot.

The side will also want to give South African-born Oli Kebble a suitable celebration as he is set to make his 100th appearance for the club.

The loosehead is amongst the replacements for the South African side’s first visit to Glasgow since October 2021.

Henco Venter is the only alteration to the starting pack that ran out at the Twickenham Stoop, coming in to start at openside in a backrow completed by Matt Fagerson and Jack Dempsey.

Sione Tuipulotu makes his first URC start of the calendar year after returning from injury a fortnight ago, partnering Stafford McDowall in the centres for tomorrow night’s clash.

The only change to the starting backline sees Facundo Cordero come into the starting XV on the wing.

Speaking ahead of Friday’s encounter, Glasgow Warriors head coach Franco Smith said: “The Sharks will pose a significant test tomorrow, and we know that we will have to perform well to get the right result.

“They have a squad filled with powerful forwards and dangerous backs, and they have the potential to cause problems from anywhere on the field.”

The return of the Rolls-Royce

Wales legend Taulupe Faletau will make his long-awaited return to action for Cardiff in Friday night’s URC clash with Ulster in Belfast.

The 104-times capped No.8 hasn’t played since breaking his arm in the World Cup game against Georgia in Nantes last October, with a subsequent calf injury extending his lay-off.

Now, after more than six months on the sidelines, he is ready to step out at the Kingspan Stadium this weekend.

Welcoming the news, Cardiff coach Matt Sherratt said: “It is brilliant to have him back, for Taulupe and for the rest of the group.

“He’s a Rolls-Royce, isn’t he?

“He is out there running around and he gets the best out of everyone else.

“You can see it when he’s back around, with the likes of Mackenzie Martin, Alex Mann. Who doesn’t want to play with Taulupe Faletau? He’s a brilliant player.

“He doesn’t say a huge amount, he is pretty quiet, but he loves playing rugby. If you speak to him about the next game or playing for Wales, his eyes light up like he’s a first capper.”

Cardiff will need the Welsh legend to hit the ground running as they seek to break their losing run to Ulster.

Cardiff have not tasted success at Ravenhill Stadium since April 2010.

“Ulster is a difficult place to come, and have a strong pack,” Sheratt said, adding: “But we’ve had some time off to recover and recuperate and then trained and prepared really well for the game.

“There is no reason why with this group, and the performances we have already put in on the road this season we can’t put in another good account of ourselves and turn a good performance into a win.”

See for Friday’s teams and predictions!

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Ulster v Cardiff
(Ravenhill Stadium, Belfast – Kick-off: 19.35; 18.35 GMT)

Prediction

@rugby365com: Ulster by seven points.

Ulster: 15 Will Addison, 14 Mike Lowry, 13 James Hume, 12 Jude Postlethwaite, 11 Jacob Stockdale, 10 Jake Flannery, 9 Nathan Doak, 8 Dave McCann, 7 Marcus Rea, 6 Dave Ewers, 5 Alan O’Connor, 4 Harry Sheridan, 3 Scott Wilson, 2 Tom Stewart, 1 Eric O’Sullivan
Replacements: 16 John Andrew, 17 Andrew Warwick, 18 Tom O’Toole, 19 Cormac Izuchukwu, 20 Greg Jones, 21 John Cooney,22 Billy Burns, 23 Ethan McIlroy

Cardiff: 15 Cam Winnett, 14 Josh Adams, 13 Mason Grady, 12 Ben Thomas, 11 Theo Cabango, 10 Tinus de Beer, 9 Ellis Bevan, 8 Taulupe Faletau, 7 Thomas Young, 6 Alex Mann, 5 Teddy Williams, 4 Ben Donnell, 3 Keiron Assiratti, 2 Liam Belcher (captain), 1 Corey Domachowski
Replacements: 16 Rhys Carré, 17 Evan Lloyd, 18 Ciaran Parker, 19 Rory Thornton, 20 Ellis Jenkins, 21 Mackenzie Martin, 22 Gonzalo Bertranou, 23 Jacob Beetham

Referee: Mike Adamson (Scotland)
Assistant referees: Andrew Cole (Ireland) and Sam Holt (Ireland)
TMO: Andrew McMenemy (Scotland)

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

Prediction

@rugby365com: Glasgow Warriors by 12 points.

Glasgow Warriors: 15 Kyle Rowe, 14 Kyle Steyn (captain), 13 Stafford McDowall, 12 Sione Tuipulotu, 11 Facundo Cordero, 10 Tom Jordan, 9 George Horne, 8 Jack Dempsey, 7 Henco Venter, 6 Matt Fagerson, 5 Scott Cummings, 4 Max Wiliamson, 3 Zander Fagerson, 2 Johnny Matthews, 1 Nathan McBeth
Replacements: 16 Gregor Hiddleston, 17 Oli Kebble, 18 Lucio Sordoni, 19 Sintu Manjezi, 20 Ally Miller, 21 Thomas Gordon, 22 Jamie Dobie, 23 Ross Thompson

Sharks: 15 Boeta Chamberlain, 14 Eduan Keyter, 13 Murray Koster, 12 Francois Venter (cptain), 11 Aphiwe Dyantyi, 10 Curwin Bosch, 9 Grant Williams, 8 Nick Hatton, 7 Lappies Labuschagne, 6 Tino Mavesere, 5 Gerbrandt Grobler, 4 Corne Rahl, 3 Hanro Jacobs, 2 Dan Jooste, 1 Ntuthuko Mchunu
Replacements: 16 Fez Mbatha, 17 Khwezi Mona, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 Emile van Heerden, 20 Vincent Tshituka, 21 Cameron Wright, 22 Siya Masuku, 23 Ethan Hooker

Referee: Federico Vedovellli (Italy)
Assistant referees: Sam Grove-White (Scotland) and Rob McDowell (Scotland)
TMO: Matteo Liperini (Italy)

Source: URC 

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