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URC, Round 15 - teams and predictions

FRIDAY PREVIEW: The Sharks have done their level best to avoid talking about next week’s Challenge Cup semifinal, but the subject remains a sideshow ahead of Friday’s United Rugby Championship Round 15 encounter with the Scarlets.

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Sharks coach John Plumtree said there was been ‘no talk’ of Clermont in the Durban-based team’s camp this week.

“We have banned that [kind of talk] from out camp and gone about our normal week,” he said.

However, the selection makes it pretty obvious Friday’s Llanelli outing has an element of a ‘training run’ for next Saturday’s big Euro face-off with the French team at Twickenham Stoop.

Looking at the Parc Y Scarlets encounter, Plumtree said certain aspects of the Sharks game will be important.

“Our set piece must function well,” he told @rugby365com.

“We know how important that [set piece] is over the next two weeks.”

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Then there is defence.

Plumtree felt they were good against Glasgow, despite some ‘soft moments’ in a 10-21 loss to the Warriors.

“I hope our defence functions well tomorrow [Friday],” the coach said, adding: “That we are disciplined in certain areas of the park, which are important in the modern game.”

He is also keen to see some ‘nice attacking moments’.

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“The key aspects are our defence, set piece and discipline.

“We get those bits right, we know we will be tough to beat,” he said.

The team for next week can certainly be improved – with two-time World Cup-winning Springbok hooker Bongi Mbonambi and James Venter set to feature in next week’s selection discussions.

Mbonambi struggled with a shoulder injury after the Challenge Cup quarterfinal win over Edinburgh a fortnight ago and stayed in Durban for rehabilitation.

He and Venter both arrived in Llanelli on Thursday.

Another interesting selection for Friday is that Gerbrandt Grobler, a regular lock, will get a run off the bench as a blindside flank.

“I think he has the skillset for a loose forward,” Plumtree said.

“Other aspects of his game may be of concern, but he is mobile enough, an excellent ball winner.”

The Scarlets selection shows just one change to the team beaten by Edinburgh last weekend.

Scotland international second row Alex Craig is ruled out with a hamstring injury, with Morgan Jones coming in to face the men from Durban.

There are a couple of changes among the replacements with prop Steff Thomas and scrumhalf Kieran Hardy coming into the squad.

Coach Dwayne Peel said he was ‘obviously disappointed’ by the 18-43 loss to Edinburgh last weekend – especially after leading the game on the hour mark.

“We spoke about showing fight and playing with a bit of freedom and there were elements of that in our game,” Peel said.

“We need to stay in that fight for 80 minutes.

“This week, we have prepared for the best version of the Sharks.

“They can put out a Springbok pack if they want and that is a massive and exciting challenge.0

“Every time you play a South African side it is going to be physical and you must step up.”

(John Plumtree previews the Parc Y Scarlets game …)

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* In the other Friday game Ulster to take on Benetton in a crucial clash at Ravenhill in Belfast – the Irish province is one of four teams on 39 points, just three points behind the fifth-placed Italian outfit.

Lock Alan O’Connor captains the side again this week, where he is joined by last week’s Player of the Match Harry Sheridan in the second row.

The bookies have given Ulster a 13-point handicap, which may be generous to the visitors.

With just three points separating fifth and 11th, it will go down to the wire.

All the Friday (April 26) teams and predictions follow below

Scarlets v Sharks
(Parc Y Scarlets, Llanelli – Kick-off: 19.35; 18.35 GMT; 20.35 SA time)

Prediction

@rugby365com: Sharks by five points

Teams

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 Morgan Jones, 3 Sam Wainwright, 2 Ryan Elias, 1 Kemsley Mathias.
Replacements: 16 Shaun Evans, 17 Steff Thomas, 18 Harri O’Connor, 19 Jac Price, 20 Carwyn Tuipulotu, 21 Kieran Hardy, 22 Dan Jones, 23 Ryan Conbeer.

Sharks: 15 Aphelele Fassi, 14 Werner Kok, 13 Lukhanyo Am (captain), 12 Ethan Hooker, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Siya Masuku, 9 Grant Williams, 8 Vincent Tshituka, 7 Lappies Labuschagne, 6 Phepsi Buthelezi, 5 Emile van Heerden, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Vincent Koch, 2 Fez Mbatha, 1 Ox Nche.
Replacements: 16 Kerron van Vuuren, 17 Ntuthuko Mchunu, 18 Hanro Jacobs, 19 Corne Rahl, 20 Gerbrandt Grobler, 21 Jaden Hendrikse, 22 Boeta Chamberlain, 23 Francois Venter.

Referee: Mike Adamson (Scotland)
Assistant referees: Ben Breakspear (Wales) and Dewi Phillips (Wales)
TMO: David Sutherland (Scotland)

Ulster v Benetton
(Ravenhill Stadium, Belfast – Kick-off: 19.35; 18.35 GMT; 20.35 Italy time)

Prediction

@rugby365com: Ulster by nine points

Teams

Ulster: 15 Mike Lowry, 14 Rob Baloucoune, 13 Will Addison, 12 Stuart McCloskey, 11 Jacob Stockdale, 10 Billy Burns, 9 John Cooney, 8 David McCann, 7 Reuben Crothers, 6 Dave Ewers, 5 Alan O’Connor (captain), 4 Harry Sheridan, 3 Scott Wilson, 2 Tom Stewart, 1 Eric O’Sullivan.
Replacements: 16 John Andrew, 17 Andrew Warwick, 18 James French, 19 Cormac Izuchukwu, 20 Greg Jones, 21 Dave Shanahan, 22 Luke Marshall, 23 Ethan McIlroy.

Benetton: 15 Jacob Umaga, 14 Leonardo Marin, 13 Tommaso Menoncello, 12 Marco Zanon, 11 Rhyno Smith, 10 Tomas Albornoz, 9 Andy Uren, 8 Lorenzo Cannone, 7 Michele Lamaro (captain), 6 Alessandro Izekor, 5 Edoardo Iachizzi, 4 Scott Scrafton, 3 Simione Ferrari, 2 Giacomo Nicotera, 1 Thomas Gallo.
Replacements: 16 Gianmarco Lucchesi, 17 Ivan Nemer, 18 Tiziano Pasquali, 19 Niccolò Cannone, 20 Riccardo Favretto, 21 Toa Halafihi, 22 Alessandro Garbisi, 23 Filippo Drago.

Referee: Sam Grove-White (Scotland)
Assistant referees: Robbie Jenkinson (Ireland) and Padraig Reidy (Ireland)
TMO: Sean Brickell (Wales)

@king365ed
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