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URC, Round 18 - Teams and Predictions

FRIDAY PREVIEW: Bonus points and even in some cases points differential will be chased as hard as match results as the 2023/2024 United Rugby Championship regular season comes to a tense and exciting conclusion in the final round of competition at the weekend.

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With Connacht still having a remote yet distinct outside chance of sneaking into the top eight, there are still 10 teams in contention for the play-offs and therefore the ultimate goal of lifting the URC trophy after what should be an enthralling Finals Series next month.

Friday’s fare sets the tone for the absorbing final round with Connacht needing to pick up a full house of log points against Leinster to stay in contention.

If they do that, they will jump to 50 points and into seventh with Saturday’s six games to come. They would then need other results to go their way.

A win over Leinster with a bonus point might seem unlikely, but it has happened before that Leinster have been caught out by the hangover that must inevitably follow a loss in the Champions Cup Final.

Leinster are currently third, three points behind leaders Munster and one behind the second-placed Bulls, but level with fourth-placed Glasgow Warriors on points.

That cues what Franco Smith’s Glasgow have to do in the other Friday game – they have the same number of wins (12) to Leinster, but have a 24-point inferior points differential, which comes into play should they finish level with the same number of wins.

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Glasgow won’t know what the rest of the weekend will bring, so they should be chasing as big a win as they can when they host last-placed Zebre at the Scotstoun.

The Bulls will also be hoping for a few upsets on Friday ahead of their clash against the Sharks in Durban on Saturday.

“We are looking forward to returning home for the final match of the regular season tomorrow [Friday], and we know that every point could be crucial in the final standings,” said Glasgow head coach Franco Smith.

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“We are pleased to welcome Huw [Jones] and Richie [Gray] back into our matchday 23 – both men have worked hard with our medical and strength and conditioning teams and are ready to go out and give their all for the team.

“Zebre will be looking to finish their season on a high, and we know that they have the ability to cause problems for us given the opportunity – we must be at our best across the field.”

Meanwhile, speaking ahead of his team’s match against Connacht, Leinster’s senior coach Jacques Nienaber said a win is crucial going into the URC play-offs.

“You want to go in with momentum.

“It would be awesome for us to go in with momentum into the knock-out stages.”

See below for Friday’s teams and predictions!

Friday, May 31:

Glasgow Warriors v Zebre Parma
(Scotstoun Stadium, Glasgow – Kick-off: 19.35; 18.35 GMT; 20.35 CEST)

Prediction

@rugby365com: Glasgow by 26 points.

Teams:

Glasgow Warriors: 15 Kyle Rowe, 14 Facundo Cordero, 13 Huw Jones, 12 Sione Tuipulotu (captain), 11 Sebastian Cancelliere, 10 Duncan Weir, 9 Jamie Dobie, 8 Jack Dempsey, 7 Rory Darge, 6 Matt Fagerson, 5 Richie Gray, 4 Max Williamson, 3 Zander Fagerson, 2 Johnny Matthews, 1 Jamie Bhatti.
Replacements: 16 Gregor Hiddleston, 17 Nathan McBeth, 18 Oli Kebble, 19 Scott Cummings, 20 Euan Ferrie, 21 George Horne, 22 Ross Thompson, 23 Tom Jordan.

Zebre: 15 Jacopo Trulla, 14 Pierre Bruno, 13 Luca Morisi (captain), 12 Damiano Mazza, 11 Simone Gesi, 10 Giovanni Montemauri, 9 Alessandro Fusco, 8 Davide Ruggeri, 7 Bautista Stavile, 6 Giacomo Ferrari, 5 Leonard Krumov, 4 Matteo Canali, 3 Muhamed Hasa, 2 Giampietro Ribaldi, 1 Danilo Fischetti.
Replacements: 16 Tommaso Di Bartolomeo, 17 Alessio Sanavia, 18 Riccardo Genovese, 19 David Sisi, 20 Taina Fox-Matamua, 21 Ratko Jelic, 22 Tiff Eden, 23 Fetuli Paea.

Referee: Peter Martin (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Hollie Davidson (Scotland) and Michael Todd (Scotland)
TMO: Olly Hodges (Ireland)

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

Prediction

@rugby365com: Leinster by 20 points.

Teams:

Leinster: 15 Jimmy O’Brien, 14 Tommy O’Brien, 13 Jamie Osborne, 12 Ciarán Frawley, 11 Rob Russell, 10 Sam Prendergast, 9 Cormac Foley, 8 Jack Conan, 7 Scott Penny (captain), 6 Rhys Ruddock, 5 Brian Deeny, 4 Ross Molony, 3 Thomas Clarkson, 2 Rónan Kelleher, 1 Ed Byrne.
Replacements: 16 Dan Sheehan, 17 Michael Milne, 18 Michael Ala’alatoa, 19 Ryan Baird, 20 Max Deegan, 21 Luke McGrath, 22 Harry Byrne, 23 Charlie Ngatai.

Connacht: 15 Santiago Cordero, 14 Shane Jennings, 13 David Hawkshaw, 12 Cathal Forde, 11 Shane Mallon, 10 Jack Carty (captain), 9 Caolin Blade, 8 Sean Jansen, 7 Conor Oliver, 6 Cian Prendergast, 5 Niall Murray, 4 Joe Joyce, 3 Finlay Bealham, 2 Dave Heffernan, 1 Peter Dooley.
Replacements: 16 Dylan Tierney-Martin, 17 Denis Buckley, 18 Jack Aungier, 19 Darragh Murray, 20 Seán O’Brien, 21 Colm Reilly, 22 Byron Ralston, 23 Tom Daly.

Referee: Chris Busby (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Eoghan Cross (Ireland) and Jonathan Erskine (Ireland)
TMO: Colin Stanley (Ireland)

Sources: URC, @GlasgowWarriors & @leinsterrugby

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