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URC, Round 16 - Teams and Predictions

SATURDAY PREVIEW: It is being billed as the ‘game of the weekend’ – and with good reason – when the fourth-placed Bulls host the table-topping Glasgow Warriors at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria.

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With three rounds remaining, there is no margin for error in the manic final dash for play-off places.

For the Bulls – within touching distance of the play-offs – the goal is a top-two finish and all the ‘home ground’ advantages that go with it.

With Benetton in Durban to take on the Sharks, the Lions at home to Cardiff, Ulster making the trip to Scarlets, Connacht facing defending URC champions Munster and Leinster welcoming Ospreys to the RDS Arena it is going to truly be #SuperSaturday!

(Continue below …)

Top eight probability

However, it is Pretoria where the spotlight will shine the brightest.

With Leinster’s focus on the Champions Cup Final face-off against Stade Toulousain – seasoned players like James Lowe, Jamison Gibson-Park, Dan Sheehan, Michael Ala’alatoa and Josh van der Flier getting a break – it allows Glasgow Warriors to cement top spot.

That will make it tough for a Bulls team that has not been the most consistent this season.

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Retired World Cup-winning Springbok Schalk Brits said their fluctuating form is the biggest challenge for South African teams – who generally have a younger, less experienced squad.

That will come right as they get more experienced in chasing two competitions in Europe.

England-born and Scotland-capped loose forward Ryan Wilson, a confessed enthusiast of the Stormers’ style, believes the top four will not be unseated.

In Round 16, Wilson’s Glasgow Warriors top the standings with 58 points – ahead of Leinster (54), Munster (53) and the Bulls (51).

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The chasing pack of play-off candidates are headed by the fifth-placed Stormers (45), followed by Connacht (44), Ulster (44), Benetton (44), Edinburgh (43), Ospreys (40) and the Lions (39).

Wilson, with more than 220 appearances for Glasgow Warriors and 50 Scotland caps, has put his money on the top four to stay as they are to the end – Glasgow, Leinster, Munster and the Bulls.

“There will be so much movement from fifth to 11th,” the 34-year-old said, adding: “All those teams play each other.

“It is going to be an exciting end to the season.”

He added that the Loftus maneuver is a “huge” game for the Bulls.

“They are probably favourites,” he said, adding: “They will feel the heat [expected to be about 30°C at kick-off] and they will feel the altitude [1350 metres above sea level].

“They have two home games.

“If they get out of that what [points] they need, they have an away game against the Sharks,” the Scotsman added.

“It [Bulls versus Glasgow] is a huge crunch match.

“The Bulls’ home advantage weighs a lot.

“It’s an equally huge game for Glasgow, given they want to retain the top spot.”

Brits agrees that Saturday is the #BIG game for the Bulls.

“Jake [White, Bulls Director of Rugby] is a coach that likes momentum,” Brits said.

He added that with Munster also hitting their straps going into the final straight, the Irish province’s experience will count heavily.

“I like the way, where the Bulls are sitting,” he said, adding: “For them to lose this one would be massive.”

(Retired World Cup-winning Springbok Schalk Brits and England-born and Scotland-capped loose forward Ryan Wilson preview Saturday’s Round 16 action…)

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For Glasgow’s South African coach Franco Smith, it’s a return to his homeland and – typical of a man renowned for his meticulous planning – no stone has been left unturned.

His squad trained on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday last week before having a long weekend off ahead of the trip to the Rainbow Nation.

“We wanted to give them a little bit of time before going away, but we also needed to make sure we trained properly and to get the job done,” the Springbok said.

“That’s the benefit of not being involved in Europe.

“We make the most of the opportunity that it presents.

“Training this week has been highly competitive, with everyone focused on producing our best performance.”

On what lies ahead in back-to-back games against the Bulls and Lions, he said it’s a different challenge.

“We’ve been prepping to go down to South Africa to be ready for that challenge.

“The important thing is to be very well organised and hopefully the guys will understand what type of pressure we are going to face.”

Smith added: “The Bulls provide one of the sternest tests in the URC.

“They have one of the strongest home records in the competition at Loftus Versfeld, as well as a blend of physical forwards and dynamic backs.

“We know we will need to be at our best to compete and everyone is looking forward to the challenge.”

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Bulls Director of Rugby Jake White said Glasgow has traditionally been the stronger of the two Scottish teams – though Edinburgh is the capital.

“Even before Franco Smith’s time, Glasgow’s recruitment has been good,” White said.

“Over the last few seasons Glasgow has been recruiting some physical players,” he said, adding: “Scotland has the least amount of registered players [from teams] in the World Cup, yet they can still compete.

“The reason is that their two regional teams play like their national team.

“That is a massive bonus.

“There is an edge with Franco [Smith] there as well.”

However, with the same type of players and reading from the same playbook, makes them good teams.

Both Scottish teams also have 4G [artificial] pitches as their home grounds.

“It doesn’t surprise me that they are top of the standings,” White said, pointing out that Glasgow had beaten Leinster earlier in the season.

The heat and altitude are factors the Bulls would like to exploit.

Glasgow’s high-tempo game could count against them in the second half, unless they employ some serious gamesmanship – which would be contrary to their nature.

“It would be interesting to see what Franco does tomorrow,” White said, adding: “However, we have to expect both – a fast and a stop-start game.

“When we can, we have to control the tempo.”

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* Meanwhile the Sharks – even though they are out of the play-off race – has an important game against Italian outfit Benetton.

They will have a big say in which eight teams qualify for the Champions Cup from the URC.

If they beat Gloucester in the Challenge Cup final at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on May 24, they will book a place in next season’s Champions Cup – meaning that whoever finishes eighth in the URC will miss out.

And right now, that eighth spot is occupied by Benetton.

So the Italians will have an even greater incentive to come out on top in Durban, with a testing trip to the Bulls coming up next week followed by a final round meeting with play-off rivals Edinburgh in Treviso.

Sharks coach John Plumtree said the focus is on fixing some of the issues that caused problems in the Euro semifinal – mainly around their set pieces.

He said Benetton will be the ‘quality’ opposition, with a powerful set-piece game.

“They don’t kick for touch much,” the coach told @rugby365com, adding: “We will get a lot of opportunities for counter-attack or rebuilding from kick-contests.

“Our defence will also get a good workout.

“They play with a lot of flair, with a lot of Italian internationals in their team.

“They want to progress up the URC standings, so beating us is important for them.

“It will be a good hit-out for us before the [Challenge Cup] Final.”

Plumtree said that while there may be some ‘tweaking’, they are not going to change their approach too much.

“It is more about us being accurate in certain aspects of our game.

“I wasn’t happy with the forwards last week.

“Some aspects of our game we are working hard on.”

* The Lions – one of three teams within a win of a top-eight finish – will look for maximum points against Cardiff at Ellis Park.

Cardiff coach Matt Sherratt said facing the Lions at Ellis Park presents his team with a ‘unique experience’ in terms of the style of game, altitude and how big game is in the Republic.

“You can turn on any TV channel and there’s school games on,” Sherratt said.

“I think the players and the staff really enjoy coming out here.

“It’s a place you can go for 10, 12 days, hopefully with a little bit of sun, time to get together as a squad and play a good game.

“It’s very easy to go to South Africa and kind of take your eye off the ball a little bit, but we haven’t come out here just so the season can fizzle out.

“This Cardiff team and our Cardiff fans deserve a lot more than that.

“We’ve got to be the best version of ourselves, showing a load of fight and playing some positive rugby.”

On his return to his homeland, flyhalf Tinus de Beer continues his remarkable record of having started every game this season, while centre Ben Thomas is handed the captaincy just days after becoming a father for the first time.

All Saturday’s teams and predictions are below

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Bulls v Glasgow Warriors
(Loftus Versfeld Stadium, Pretoria – Kick-off: 14.00; 12.00 GMT; 13.00 IRE & UK time)

Prediction

@rugby365com: Bulls by three points

Teams

Bulls: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Canan Moodie, 13 David Kriel, 12 Harold Vorster, 11 Kurt-Lee Arendse, 10 Chris Smith, 9 Embrose Papier, 8 Cameron Hanekom, 7 Elrigh Louw, 6 Marco van Staden, 5 Ruan Nortje (captain), 4 Ruan Vermaak, 3 Wilco Louw, 2 Akker van der Merwe, 1 Gerhard Steenekamp.
Replacements: 16 Johan Grobbelaar, 17 Simphiwe Matanzima, 18 Francois Klopper, 19 Reinhardt Ludwig, 20 Nizaam Carr, 21 Izak Burger, 22 Jaco van der Walt, 23 Devon Williams.

Glasgow Warriors: 15 Josh McKay, 14 Kyle Steyn (captain), 13 Stafford McDowall, 12 Sione Tuipulotu, 11 Sebastian Cancelliere, 10 Tom Jordan, 9 George Horne, 8 Jack Dempsey, 7 Rory Darge, 6 Matt Fagerson, 5 Scott Cummings, 4 Gregor Brown, 3 Murphy Walker, 2 Grant Stewart, 1 Jamie Bhatti.
Replacements: 16 Johnny Matthews, 17 Nathan McBeth, 18 Zander Fagerson, 19 Max Williamson, 20 Euan Ferrie, 21 Henco Venter, 22 Jamie Dobie, 23 Duncan Weir.

Referee: Ben Whitehouse (Wales)
Assistant referees: AJ Jacobs (South Africa) and Dylen November (South Africa)
TMO: Craig Evans (Wales)

Sharks v Benetton
(Kings Park, Durban – Kick-off: 16.05; 14.05 GMT; 16.05 Italy time)

Prediction

@rugby365com: Sharks by eight points

Teams

Sharks: 15 Aphelele Fassi, 14 Werner Kok, 13 Lukhanyo Am (captain), 12 Francois Venter, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Siya Masuku, 9 Grant Williams, 8 Vincent Tshituka, 7 Gerbrandt Grobler, 6 James Venter, 5 Corne Rahl, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Vincent Koch, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Ox Nche.
Replacements: 16 Fez Mbatha, 17 Ntuthuko Mchunu, 18 Hanro Jacobs, 19 Lappies Labuschagne, 20 Tino Mavesere, 21 Cameron Wright, 22 Boeta Chamberlain, 23 Diego Appolis.

Benetton: 15 Rhyno Smith, 14 Ignacio Mendy, 13 Tommaso Menoncello, 12 Ignacio Brex, 11 Onisi Ratave, 10 Leonardo Marin, 9 Andy Uren, 8 Lorenzo Cannone, 7 Sebastian Negri, 6 Alessandro Izekor, 5 Eli Snyman (captain), 4 Niccolò Cannone, 3 Simone Ferrari, 2 Gianmarco Lucchesi, 1 Federico Zani.
Replacements: 16 Bautista Bernasconi, 17 Destiny Aminu, 18 Giosué Zilocchi, 19 Edoardo Iachizzi, 20 Riccardo Favretto, 21 Dewaldt Duvenage, 22 Jacob Umaga, 23 Marco Zanon.

Referee: Mike Adamson (Scotland)
Assistant referees: Morné Ferreira (South Africa) and Hanru Van Rooyen (South Africa)
TMO: Hollie Davidson (Scotland)

Scarlets v Ulster
(Parc Y Scarlets, Llanelli – Kick-off: 15.05; 14.05 GMT)

Prediction

@rugby365com: Ulster by nine points

Teams

Scarlets: 15 Ioan Nicholas, 14 Tomi Lewis, 13 Johnny Williams, 12 Eddie James, 11 Ryan Conbeer, 10 Sam Costelow, 9 Gareth Davies, 8 Carwyn Tuipulotu, 7 Dan Davis, 6 Taine Plumtree, 5 Jac Price, 4 Morgan Jones, 3 Harri O’Connor, 2 Ryan Elias (captain), 1 Kemsley Mathias.
Replacements: 16 Shaun Evans, 17 Wyn Jones, 18 Sam Wainwright, 19 Jarrod Taylor, 20 Ben Williams, 21 Kieran Hardy, 22 Ioan Lloyd, 23 Scott Williams.

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

Referee: Gianluca Gnecchi (Italy)
Assistant referees: Adam Jones (Wales) and Elliot Mayor (Wales)
TMO: Matteo Liperini (Italy)

Lions v Cardiff
(Ellis Park, Johannesburg – Kick-off: 18.15; 16.15 GMT; 17.15 IRE & UK time)

Prediction

@rugby365com: Lions by 12 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 Ruan Venter, 6 JC Pretorius, 5 Ruan Delport, 4 Willem Alberts, 3 Asenathi Ntlabakanye, 2 PJ Botha, 1 Ruan Dreyer.
Replacements: 16 Jaco Visagie, 17 JP Smith, 18 Conraad van Vuren, 19 Reinhard Nothnagel, 20 Emmanuel Tshituka, 21 Hanru Sirgel, 22 Jordan Hendrikse, 23 Gianni Lombard.

Cardiff: 15 Cam Winnett, 14 Gabriel Hamer-Webb, 13 Mason Grady, 12 Ben Thomas, 11 Theo Cabango, 10 Tinus de Beer, 9 Gonzalo Bertranou, 8 Mackenzie Martin, 7 James Botham, 6 Ben Donnell, 5 Rory Thornton, 4 Seb Davies, 3 Keiron Assiratti, 2 Evan Lloyd, 1 Rhys Carre.
Replacements: 16 Liam Belcher, 17 Corey Domachowski, 18 Rhys Litterick, 19 Shane Lewis-Hughes, 20 Alun Lawrence, 21 Ellis Bevan, 22 Jacob Beetham, 23 Max Clark.

Referee: Eoghan Cross (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Aimee Barrett-Theron (South Africa) and Cwengile Jadezweni (South Africa)
TMO: Frank Murphy (Ireland)

Munster v Connacht
(Thomond Park, Limerick – Kick-off: 17.15; 16.15 GMT)

Prediction

@rugby365com: Munster by 15 points

Teams

Munster: 15 Simon Zebo, 14 Calvin Nash, 13 Alex Nankivell, 12 Seán O’Brien, 11 Shane Daly, 10 Jack Crowley, 9 Craig Casey, 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 Mark Donnelly, 18 Oli Jager, 19 Tom Ahern, 20 Gavin Coombes, 21 Conor Murray, 22 Joey Carbery, 23 Antoine Frisch.

Connacht: 15 Tiernan O’Halloran, 14 Shane Jennings, 13 Tom Farrell, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 Byron Ralston, 10 Jack Carty (captain), 9 Matthew Devine, 8 Paul Boyle, 7 Conor Oliver, 6 Shamus Hurley-Langton, 5 Oisín Dowling, 4 Joe Joyce, 3 Finlay Bealham, 2 Dave Heffernan, 1 Peter Dooley.
Replacements: 16 Dylan Tierney-Martin, 17 Jordan Duggan, 18 Jack Aungier, 19 Niall Murray, 20 Sean Jansen, 21 Caolin Blade, 22 Cathal Forde, 23 Jarrad Butler.

Referee: Andrew Brace (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Peter Martin (Ireland) and Paul Haycock (Ireland)
TMO: Mark Patton (Ireland)

Leinster v Ospreys
(RDS Arena, Dublin – Kick-off: 19.35; 18.35 GMT)

Prediction

@rugby365com: Leinster by 18 points

Teams

Leinster: 15 Ciarán Frawley, 14 Jordan Larmour, 13 Jamie Osborne, 12 Robbie Henshaw, 11 Jimmy O’Brien, 10 Ross Byrne, 9 Luke McGrath, 8 Caelan Doris (captain), 7 Will Connors, 6 Ryan Baird , 5 Jason Jenkins, 4 Ross Molony, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 2 Rónan Kelleher, 1 Andrew Porter.
Replacements: 16 Dan Sheehan, 17 Michael Milne, 18 Thomas Clarkson, 19 Jack Conan, 20 Josh van der Flier, 21 Jamison Gibson-Park, 22 Charlie Ngatai, 23 Tommy O’Brien.

Ospreys: 15 Max Nagy, 14 Luke Morgan, 13 Owen Watkin, 12 Keiran Williams, 11 Keelan Giles, 10 Dan Edwards, 9 Reuben Morgan-Williams, 8 Morgan Morris, 7 Justin Tipuric (captain), 6 Harri Deaves, 5 Huw Sutton, 4 James Ratti, 3 Rhys Henry, 2 Dewi Lake, 1 Nicky Smith.
Replacements: 16 Sam Parry, 17 Gareth Thomas, 18 Tom Botha, 19 Victor Sekekete, 20 Jac Morgan, 21 Luke Davies, 22 Jack Walsh, 23 Evardi Boshoff.

Referee: Sam Grove-White (Scotland)
Assistant referees: Keane Davison (Ireland) and Oisin Quinn (Ireland)
TMO: Andrew McMenemy (Ireland)

@king365ed
@rugby365com

* Additional reporting by @URCOfficial

 

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