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URC, Round 14 - teams and predictions

SATURDAY PREVIEW: Strap yourself in. It is going to be a wild ride.

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With just five rounds of the United Rugby Championship’s league action remaining and just 11 points separating positions three and 11 on the standings, there is no room for hiding.

It gets even more hairy if you consider just one point separating positions seven and 11 or five points between the teams that are fifth and 11th on the standings.

Our focus is mainly on the Loftus Versfeld face-off between the Bulls (third) and defending champions Munster (fourth).

There are only two points between the two sides, ensuring this is so much more than a cliched ‘crunch’ match.

The Bulls welcome back the Springboks Willie le Roux at fullback and Kurt-Lee Arendse on the wing, with fellow World Cup-winning Bok Canan Moodie at outside centre.

Also back are Elrigh Louw and Wilco Louw.

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Munster, meanwhile, welcomes back Six Nations star Calvin Nash and Shane Daly, with the main attraction their two-time World Cup-winning Bok RG Snyman returning from illness in his old stomping ground.

Bulls Director of Rugby Jake White made it clear that ‘home ground advantage’ in the play-offs is vital, adding spice to the Loftus face-off.

“We saw what it meant to the Stormers, playing in two home finals,” White said.

“It is not only the financial benefits, but also the ability to play against the best teams at home and give yourself a chance top win.”

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With all the numerous play-off permutations, the Bulls are aware of the importance of winning in the next four rounds – which are all home games.

“All we can do is win as many games as we can, to finish as high [on the standings] as possible.

“You also want to go into the play-offs having won your last few games with momentum.”

Turning to the game itself, White pointed out that Munster are the defending champions and beat the Stormers in Cape Town – a rare occurrence.

“We have to approach it as a Final,” the Bulls boss said, adding: “They know how to win in South Africa.

“The last time we played them at Thomond Park they beat us easily [31-17].

“We will have to play well.”

White expects Munster to be every bit as dangerous as they were during the run-in into last year’s Final – which saw them knock over the Stormers in Cape Town.

(Article continues below the Jake White preview …)

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Munster attack coach Mike Prendergast said the conditions – the temperature expected to be in the region of 30°C at kick-off and the high altitude – will be a real challenge for his team.

“We spoke about having a plan,” he said of dealing with the foreign conditions.

“We have to be clever in how we play – in both halves.

“We can’t play into their hands, so we do have a different approach.

“It is exciting and something different for us.”

Prendergast said the Bulls’ power up front and speed in the backs are the big threats.

“Tactically we have to be very smart in how we play.

“We have to mind the ball when we have it, because they like to get you into an unstructured game.

“It allows their speedsters to find mismatches – with a lot of their tries coming from turnovers or lose kicks.

“They score a lot of tries when the game is broken up.”

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* The Stormers, the other South African team with ambitions to finish in the top four, host Ospreys in Cape Town on Saturday.

Stormers Director of Rugby John Dobson said the closer you get to the play-offs, the more significant each game becomes.

“Every match becomes our most important and we will certainly be treating this game that way,” Dobson said.

“We will have a few exciting combinations out there and they will need to fire from the first whistle if we are to get the result we need against a highly competitive Ospreys side.

“It promises to be another great match and we can’t wait to see our fans out there again.”

Ospreys coach Toby Booth said the Stormers are very physical, which is probably the visitors’ biggest challenge.

“They are a big team with a strong set piece, but they’ve got some good athletes behind and will play an open game,” Booth said.

“It’s important that we go out and give the best account of ourselves in this one.”

With Leinster arriving in town next week, the Stormers could be forgiven if they started looking ahead.

However, assistant coach Rito Hlungwani said they must give Ospreys all the respect they deserve.

“They are just two points behind us [on the standings],” the forwards coach said.

“Our focus has been to go hard and put out a team that can perform against Ospreys.”

He added that they are focusing on securing the win, even though a bonus point could come in handy later in the run-in to the play-offs.

“We don’t want to put ourselves under pressure by chasing five points.

“We have to secure the win first and we have a plan that we feel will achieve that.

“First things first: Perform, execute and the rest will take care of itself.”

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Wales prop Nicky Smith is looking to sign off on a high before leaving the Ospreys at the end of this season.

The 46-cap loosehead will be joining Leicester after some 12 years with the region.

But first, he wants to help the seventh-placed Ospreys secure a spot in the URC play-offs, with this weekend’s Cape Town clash launching a five-match run-in.

“I am so keen to help the boys as much as I can to get into those play-offs and push for silverware,” Smith said.

“We want to get to the play-offs. It won’t be a success if we don’t make it.”

World Cup-winning Springboks prop Frans Malherbe will captain the Stormers.

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* It’s been a huge week for Leinster, with the hoodoo-laying Champions Cup quarterfinal victory over Stade Rochelais followed by the headline-grabbing signing of All Blacks’ star Jordie Barrett.

There’s also been news of Tyler Bleyendaal joining the coaching team from the Hurricanes and of a move to Lansdowne Road next season while the RDS is redeveloped.

So it’s all been happening.

Now it’s back to URC action and a tour of South Africa which will test the league leaders’ much-vaunted squad depth as they take on the Lions and Stormers.

“We are playing two extremely strong sides,” starting centre Liam Turner said of Saturday’s encounter at Ellis Park.

“The game is a religion down here and, of course, after South Africa winning the World Cup rugby is at an all-new heights, everybody is behind all the sides. So we are up against huge tests.

“But it’s all about having a belief in what we are trying to do and applying that the best we can.

“It’s still very tight up at the top of the URC table, so it’s about getting two wins and building towards that number one seed. It’s going to be two very tough games.”

The match also features two of South Africa’s foremost defensive gurus – World Cup-winning Springbok Jaque Fourie in his guise as the Lions defence coach and World Cup-winning former Bok coach Jaque Nienaber on the Leinster coaching roster.

Fourie played down the head-to-head, saying that as the best-attacking team in the competition, Leinster would test the home team’s defence.

“To measure yourself against that [attack] is what you want to do,” he said about his own team’s defence.

“We know they have changed the way they are defending, but we have done our homework.

“You know they are going to score one or two crazy tries. They are capable of that.

“We need to stay in structure and put their skillset under pressure 95 percent of the time.

“If you give them time and space on the ball, they will punish you.”

All Saturday’s teams and predictions follow below

Lions v Leinster
(Ellis Park, Johannesburg – Kick-off: 15.00; 13.00 GMT; 14.00 Ireland & UK time)

Prediction

@rugby365com: Leinster by nine points

Teams

Lions: 15 Quan Horn, 14 Richard Kriel, 13 Erich Cronje, 12 Marius Louw (captain), 11 Edwill van der Merwe, 10 Sanele Nohamba, 9 Morné van den Berg, 8 Francke Horn, 7 Emmanuel Tshituka, 6 JC Pretorius, 5 Ruan Delport, 4 Willem Alberts, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 PJ Botha, 1 Morgan Naudé.
Replacements: 16 Jaco Visagie, 17 JP Smith, 18 Asenathi Ntlabakanye, 19 Reinhard Nothnagel, 20 Sibusiso Sangweni, 21 Nico Steyn, 22 Jordan Hendrikse, 23 Henco van Wyk.

Leinster: 15 Ciarán Frawley, 14 Rob Russell, 13 Liam Turner, 12 Charlie Ngatai, 11 Andrew Osborne, 10 Harry Byrne, 9 Luke McGrath, 8 Max Deegan, 7 Scott Penny (captain), 6 Diarmuid Mangan, 5 Jason Jenkins, 4 Brian Deeny, 3 Thomas Clarkson, 2 Lee Barron, 1 Cian Healy.
Replacements: 16 John McKee, 17 Michael Milne, 18 Michael Ala’alatoa, 19 Ross Molony, 20 Rhys Ruddock, 21 Cormac Foley, 22 San Prendergast, 23 Ben Brownlee.

Referee: Gianluca Gnecchi (Italy)
Assistant referees: Morné Ferreira (South Africa) and Christopher Allison (South Africa)
TMO: Andrea Piardi (Italy)

Benetton v Dragons
(Stadio Monigo, Treviso – Kick-off: 15.00; 13.00 GMT; 14.00 Ireland and UK time)

Prediction

@rugby365com: Benetton by 14 points

Teams

Benetton: 15 Rhyno Smith, 14 Leonardo Marin, 13 Ignacio Brex, 12 Marco Zanon, 11 Onisi Ratave, 10 Tomas Albornoz, 9 Andy Uren, 8 Toa Halafihi, 7 Michele Lamaro (captain), 6 Sebastian Negri, 5 Riccardo Favretto, 4 Scott Scrafton, 3 Giosué Zilocchi, 2 Gianmarco Lucchesi, 1 Mirco Spagnolo.
Replacements: 16 Bautista Bernasconi, Ivan Nemer, 18 Tiziano Pasquali, 19 Gideon Koegelenberg, 20 Edoardo Iachizzi, 21 Alessandro Izekor, 22 Dewaldt Duvenage, 23 Jacob Umaga.

Dragons: 15 Cai Evans, 14 Rio Dyer, 13 Sio Tomkinson, 12 Aneurin Owen, 11 Jared Rosser, 10 Will Reed, 9 Dane Blacker, 8 Taine Basham, 7 Sean Lonsdale, 6 Dan Lydiate (captain), 5 George Nott, 4 Ben Carter, 3 Luke Yendle, 2 James Benjamin, 1 Rodrigo Martinez.
Replacements: 16 Brodie Coghlan, 17 Aki Seiuli, 18 Dmitri Arhip, 19 Harrison Keddie, 20 Aaron Wainwright, 21 Che Hope, 22 Joe Westwood, 23 Jordan Williams.

Referee: Frank Murphy (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Fillipo Russo (Italy) and Alex Frasson (Italy)
TMO: Mark Patton (Ireland)

Bulls v Munster
(Loftus Versfeld Stadium, Pretoria – Kick-off: 17.05; 15.05 GMT; 16.05 Ireland & UK time)

Prediction

@rugby365com: Bulls by five points

Teams

Bulls: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Kurt-Lee Arendse, 13 Canan Moodie, 12 David Kriel, 11 Sebastien de Klerk, 10 Johan Goosen, 9 Embrose Papier, 8 Elrigh Louw (captain), 7 Reinhardt Ludwig, 6 Cameron Hanekom, 5 JF van Heerden, 4 Ruan Vermaak, 3 Wilco Louw, 2 Johan Grobbelaar, 1 Gerhard Steenekamp.
Replacements: 16 Akker van der Merwe, 17 Simphiwe Matanzima, 18 Mornay Smith, 19 Janko Swanepoel, 20 Mpilo Gumede, 21 Izak Burger, 22 Chris Smith, 23 Devon Williams.

Munster: 15 Simon Zebo, 14 Calvin Nash, 13 Antoine Frisch, 12 Alex Nankivell, 11 Shane Daly, 10 Jack Crowley, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Jack O’Donoghue, 7 Alex Kendellen, 6 Peter O’Mahony, 5 Tadhg Beirne (captain), 4 RG Snyman, 3 Stephen Archer, 2 Niall Scannell, 1 Jeremy Loughman.
Replacements: 16 Eoghan Clarke, 17 Josh Wycherley, 18 Oli Jager, 19 Tom Ahern, 20 Gavin Coombes, 21 Craig Casey, 22 Joey Carbery, 23 John Hodnett.

Referee: Adam Jones (Wales)
Assistant referees: AJ Jacobs (Ireland) and Dylen November (Ireland)
TMO: Craig Evans (Wales)

Stormers v Ospreys
(Cape Town Stadium, Cape Town – Kick-off: 19.15; 17.15 GMT; 18.15 Ireland & UK time)

Prediction

@rugby365com: Stormers by eight points

Teams

Stormers: 15 Warrick Gelant, 14 Suleiman Hartzenberg, 13 Wandisile Simelane, 12 Dan du Plessis, 11 Ben Loader, 10 Manie Libbok, 9 Stefan Ungerer, 8 Evan Roos, 7 Hacjivah Dayimani, 6 Nama Xaba, 5 Gary Porter, 4 Adre Smith, 3 Frans Malherbe (captain), 2 JJ Kotze, 1 Brok Harris.
Replacements: 16 Scarra Ntubeni, 17 Kwenzo Blose, 18 Sazi Sandi, 19 Ruben van Heerden, 20 Willie Engelbrecht, 21 Marcel Theunissen, 22 Paul de Wet, 23 Damian Willemse.

Ospreys: 15 Max Nagy, 14 Luke Morgan, 13 Keiran Williams, 12 Owen Watkin, 11 Keelan Giles, 10 Dan Edwards, 9 Reuben Morgan-Williams, 8 Morgan Morris (captain), 7 Harri Deaves, 6 James Ratti, 5 Huw Sutton, 4 Victor Sekekete, 3 Rhys Henry, 2 Sam Parry, 1 Nicky Smith
Replacements: 16 Lewis Lloyd, 17 Garyn Phillips, 18 Ben Warren, 19 Adam Beard, 20 Jeandre Rudolph, 21 Luke Davies, 22 Jack Walsh, 23 Evardi Boshoff

Referee: Andrew Brace (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Cwengile Jadezweni (South Africa) and Hanru van Rooyen (South Africa)
TMO: Chris Busby (Ireland)

Connacht v Zebre
(The Sportsground, Galway – Kick-off: 19.35; 18.35 GMT; 20.35 Italy time)

Prediction

@rugby365com: Connacht by 16 points

Teams

Connacht: 15 Shane Jennings, 14 John Porch, 13 Tom Farrell, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 Andrew Smith, 10 JJ Hanrahan, 9 Matthew Devine, 8 Seán O’Brien, 7 Conor Oliver, 6 Shamus Hurley-Langton, 5 Niall Murray, 4 Joe Joyce, 3 Finlay Bealham, 2 Dave Heffernan (captain), 1 Jordan Dugga.
Replacements: 16 Tadgh McElroy, 17 Peter Dooley, 18 Sam Illo, 19 Oisín Dowling, 20 Jarrad Butler, 21 Caolin Blade, 22 Cathal Forde, 23 Paul Boyle.

Zebre: 15 Lorenzo Pani, 14 Jacopo Trulla, 13 Scott Gregory, 12 Fetuli Paea, 11 Simone Gesi, 10 Geronimo Prisciantelli, 9 Gonzalo Garcia, 8 Giovanni Licata (captain), 7 Davide Ruggeri, 6 Guido Volpi, 5 Andrea Zambonin, 4 Leonard Krumov, 3 Juan Pitinari, 2 Giampietro Ribaldi, 1 Muhamed Hasa.
Replacements: 16 Tommaso Di Bartolomeo, 17 Danilo Fischetti, 18 Riccardo Genovese, 19 Matteo Canali, 20 Iacopo Bianchi, 21 Thomas Dominguez, 22 Franco Smith Jr, 23 Enrico Lucchin.

Referee: Aimee Barrett- Theron (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Peter Martin (Ireland) and Tomas O’Sullivan (Ireland)
TMO: Colin Brett (Scotland)

Edinburgh v Scarlets
(Edinburgh Stadium, Edinburgh – Kick-off: 19.35; 18.35 GMT)

Prediction

@rugby365com: Edinburgh by Nine points

Teams

Edinburgh: 15 Wes Goosen, 14 Matt Currie, 13 Mark Bennett, 12 James Lang, 11 Duhan van der Merwe, 10 Ben Healy, 9 Ali Price, 8 Viliame Mata, 7 Luke Crosbie, 6 Jamie Ritchie, 5 Grant Gilchrist (captain), 4 Jamie Hodgson, 3 Javan Sebastian, 2 Dave Cherry, 1 Boan Venter.
Replacements: 16 Ewan Ashman, 17 Pierre Schoeman, 18 WP Nel, 19 Marshall Sykes, 20 Connor Boyle, 21 Ben Vellacott, 22 Cammy Scott, 23 Chris Dean.

Scarlets: 15 Ioan Nicholas, 14 Tom Rogers, 13 Johnny Williams, 12 Eddie James, 11 Tomi Lewis, 10 Sam Costelow, 9 Gareth Davies, 8 Vaea Fifita, 7 Dan Davis, 6 Taine Plumtree, 5 Sam Lousi, 4 Alex Craig, 3 Sam Wainwright, 2 Ryan Elias, 1 Kemsley Mathias.
Replacements: 16 Shaun Evans, 17 Wyn Jones, 18 Harri O’Connor, 19 Morgan Jones, 20 Carwyn Tuipulotu, 21 Archie Hughes, 22 Dan Jones, 23 Ryan Conbeer.

Referee: Eoghan Cross (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Ru Campbell (Scotland) and Michael Todd (Scotland)
TMO: Olly Hodges (Ireland)

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