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URC, Round 18 - Teams and Predictions

SATURDAY PREVIEW: It is all to play for when the 2023/24 United Rugby Championship regular league phase concludes.

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It is certainly an exciting conclusion, with several teams involved in must-win scenarios as they attempt to book the best possible log positions heading into the quarterfinals and attempt to secure their spots in the top eight.

To make things more interesting the respective Shield winners will also be determined on Saturday.

Stormers, who are currently in fifth place on the standings, will host the ninth-placed Lions in Cape Town, while the Sharks – who will be playing purely for pride after being knocked out of the quarterfinal race – will host the second-placed Bulls in Durban.

In Europe, Benetton host Edinburgh in a classic winner-takes-all match in Italy,

The Welsh derby double header sees Scarlets face Dragons before Cardiff take on Ospreys.

There is also an Irish showdown with reigning champs Munster hosting Ulster.

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In Cape Town, it is all about a win for the Lions.

They are currently tied on 49 log points with the eighth-placed Benetton and seventh-placed Edinburgh, and a victory and most likely with a bonus point will see the Lions book a quarterfinal spot for the first time.

The Lions can draw inspiration from the fact they are the only South African team to have beaten the Stormers in Cape Town in the league – a 37-19 triumph in December 2021.

Plus they have won their last two URC matches, defeating Cardiff and then league leaders Glasgow to put themselves right back in the mix.

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However, it will be a tough task for them this weekend as the fifth-placed Stormers will want to maintain momentum going into the knock-out stages following successive victories over Leinster, the Dragons and Connacht.

“The Lions are coming down with a mission,” Stormers attack coach Dawie Snyman said.

“It is a SA derby and a bit personal. There are a few battles that is always good to see, but we want to give them a good challenge.”

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Spicing up the clash, the Joburg franchise has a superior attacking record this season with a 63-point lead over the Capetonians, but the home side has been more effective on defence conceding 45 points fewer in their 17 matches to date.

“We want to approach the game moment by moment,” Snyman said, adding: “If there is a restart we will try to win it well, whether a line-out, stopping a maul or a scrumming, all those things we want to execute well.

“We want to put up a really good defensive performance and not focus too much on what they [Lions] need to do.”

More than a win

The Bulls will enter their clash against the Sharks as overwhelming favourites on paper given their impressive record this season with 12 wins in 17 outings to only four by the hosts.

However, they will be mindful of the fact that the KwaZulu-Natalians will enter the match high on confidence after making history last week by becoming the first South African team ever to be crowned the EPCR Challenge Cup champions in England.

“The Challenge Cup Final celebration has compromised the week, but for the last part of the week, we have been working hard and are ready to go,” Sharks head coach John Plumtree said.

“We put all our energy into Gloucester, so there is some mental fatigue.

“However with this competition, you have to lift yourself even if you have won a trophy.”

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While that encounter and the travel involved has taken its toll, Plumtree has still gone strong, retaining 12 of the starters from the 32-22 win in London, with the mighty scrummaging front row unit of Ox Nche, Bongi Mbonambi and Vincent Koch all on board together again, while the red-hot Siya Masuku will be calling the shots from flyhalf.

As for Jake White, he has stuck with the same 23 that recorded a 56-35 victory over Benetton in the last round, with just the one change to the starting line-up, as Johan Grobbelaar takes over from try-machine Akker van der Merwe at hooker.

The Bulls will want to win to secure the top-two finish that would earn them home advantage for both the quarter and semifinals in the play-offs. Victory in Durban would also see them lift the South African Shield.

“It’s a massive match,” White said, adding: “Every position in the table can change this weekend.

“That is an incredible stat if you think about it.

“There are just two wins that separate the first team and the eighth team on the log, so it’s all about the wins.

“You have to make sure you win your game in more ways than one. Firstly because we need to stay where we are and secondly the wins are the thing that when teams are tied on points, wins for and losses against are what they use to separate the teams.”

White added: “It is never easy to come to Durban, but it is a wonderful opportunity for us.

“If we win, we win the conference and get a chance to go second on the log. And if things go well we can go top of the log.”

Judgement Day

The Bulls will hope that Ulster can do them a favour when they take on the Munster.

A win for reigning champions Munster will see them finish the regular season on top of the table, which would be some achievement given their shaky start to the campaign.

They only won four of their first nine URC fixtures, but they have come flying up on the rails in the final straight, reeling off eight successive victories.

For Benetton and Edinburgh, it is a classic winner-takes-all clash and one where there is more than just a play-off spot on the line.

Whoever wins out in Treviso will book their passage through to the knock-out stage and all but guarantee themselves Champions Cup rugby for next season.

The losers could yet make the play-offs, particularly if they pick up a bonus point in defeat.

But the highest they could finish is eighth, which would mean missing out on the Champions Cup, with the Sharks having qualified through winning the Challenge Cup.

So, there’s a huge amount at stake, as Edinburgh head coach Sean Everitt confirms.

“This is a cup final for us. We know what’s at stake and we’re treating it with the importance it deserves,” said the South African.

“It’s winner-takes-all for a play-off spot and the boys are focused on delivering a performance that gets us over the line.

“We’ve shown great character on the road this season and we’ll need every ounce of that again in Treviso.”

It’s also a big day for Welsh referee Ben Whitehouse who will take charge of his 100th league game.

The Scarlets will take on Dragons in the first Judgement Day Derby, while for the Ospreys, the equation is simple, yet also complicated.

Their own objective is clear. To have any chance of making the play-offs, they have to secure a bonus point victory in this second Judgement Day derby.

But they also require a series of other results to go their way.

They need the Lions to get no more than a point away to the Stormers, for either Benetton or Edinburgh to come away pointless from their meeting in Treviso and for Connacht to miss out on maximum points away to Leinster.

There is also the possibility of them pipping Benetton on points difference should they finish level with them on match points, but that would require a 26-point swing.

The bottom line is they will know where they stand when they take the field at the Cardiff City Stadium as their rivals will have played their matches.

All they can hope for is that they are still in the mix by that point.

See below for Saturday’s teams and predictions!

Stormers v Lions
(Cape Town Stadium, Cape Town – Kick-off: 13.45; 11.45 GMT)

Prediction

@rugby365com: Stormers by five points.

Teams: 

Stormers: 15 Sacha Feinberg-Mngomezulu, 14 Suleiman Hartzenberg, 13 Wandisile Simelane, 12 Dan du Plessis, 11 Angelo Davids, 10 Manie Libbok, 9 Herschel Jantjies, 8 Hacjivah Dayimani, 7 Ben-Jason Dixon, 6 Evan Roos, 5 Ruben van Heerden, 4 Salmaan Moerat (captain), 3 Neethling Fouche, 2 Andre-Hugo Venter, 1 Sti Sithole
Replacements: 16 Joseph Dweba, 17 Brok Harris, 18 Frans Malherbe, 19 Adre Smith, 20 Marcel Theunissen, 21 Stefan Ungerer, 22 Jean-Luc du Plessis, 23 Ben Loader

Lions: 15 Quan Horn, 14 Rabz Maxwane, 13 Erich Cronje, 12 Jordan Hendrikse, 11 Edwill van der Merwe, 10 Sanele Nohamba, 9 Morne van den Berg, 8 Francke Horn, 7 Emmanuel Tshituka, 6 JC Pretorius, 5 Ruan Delport, 4 Willem Alberts (captain), 3 Asenathi Ntlabakanye, 2 PJ Botha, 1 Morgan Naude
Replacements: 16 Jaco Visagie, 17 JP Smith, 18 Ruan Dreyer, 19 Etienne Oosthuizen, 20 Reinhard Nothnagel, 21 Izan Eseterhuizen, 22 Marius Louw, 23 Gianni Lombard

Referee: Marius van der Westhuizen (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Griffin Colby (South Africa) and Hanru van Rooyen (South Africa)
TMO: Christi du Preez (South Africa)

Benetton v Edinburgh
(Stadio Monigo, Treviso – Kick-off: 14.00; 12.00 GMT; 13.00 IRE & UK time)

Prediction

@rugby365com: Edinburgh by seven points.

Teams: 

Benetton: 15 Rhyno Smith, 14 Ignacio Mendy, 13 Tommaso Menoncello, 12 Ignacio Brex, 11 Onisi Ratave, 10 Tomas Albornoz, 9 Andy Uren, 8 Toa Halafihi, 7 Michele Lamaro (captain), 6 Alessandro Izekor, 5 Eli Snyman, 4 Niccolò Cannone, 3 Simone Ferrari, 2 Giacomo Nicotera, 1 Thomas Gallo
Replacements: 16 Gianmarco Lucchesi, 17 Mirco Spagnolo, 18 Giosué Zilocchi, 19 Edoardo Iachizzi, 20 Lorenzo Cannone, 21 Alessandro Garbisi, 22 Jacob Umaga, 23 Marco Zanon

Edinburgh: 15 James Lang, 14 Jake Henry, 13 Matt Currie, 12 Chris Dean, 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 Sam Skinner, 3 WP Nel, 2 Ewan Ashman, 1 Pierre Schoeman
Replacements: 16 Dave Cherry, 17 Boan Venter, 18 Javan Sebastian, 19 Marshall Sykes, 20 Hamish Watson, 21 Ben Vellacott, 22 Cammy Scott, 23 Mark Bennett

Referee: Ben Whitehouse (Wales)
Assistant referees: Filippo Russo (Italy) and Alex Frasson (Italy)
TMO: Aled Griffiths (Wales)

Scarlets v Dragons RFC
(Cardiff City Stadium, Cardiff – Kick-off: 15.00; 14.00 GMT)

Prediction

@rugby365com: Scarlets by 15 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 Sam Lousi, 4 Alex Craig, 3 Harri O’Connor, 2 Ryan Elias (captain), 1 Kemsley Mathias
Replacements: 16 Shaun Evans, 17 Wyn Jones, 18 Sam Wainwright, 19 Morgan Jones, 20 Jarrod Taylor, 21 Kieran Hardy, 22 Ioan Lloyd, 23 Macs Page

Dragons: 15 Ewan Rosser, 14 Rio Dyer, 13 Joe Westwood, 12 Aneurin Owen, 11 Chris Hollis, 10 Will Reed, 9 Rhodri Williams (captain), 8 Aaron Wainwright, 7 Taine Basham, 6 Ryan Woodman, 5 Matthew Screech, 4 Ben Carter, 3 Chris Coleman, 2 Brodie Coghlan, 1 Rhodri Jones
Replacements: 16 James Benjamin, 17 Rodrigo Martinez, 18 Dmitri Arhip, 19 George Nott, 20 Dan Lydiate, 21 Che Hope, 22 Steff Hughes, 23 Sio Tomkinson

Referee: Craig Evans (Wales)
Assistant referees: Rhys Jones (Wales) and Nathan James (Wales)
TMO: Keith David (Wales)

Sharks v Bulls
(Kings Park, Durban – Kick-off: 16.00; 14.00 GMT)

Prediction

@rugby365com: Bulls by three points.

Teams: 

Sharks: 15 Aphelele Fassi, 14 Werner Kok, 13 Ethan Hooker, 12 Francois Venter (captain), 11 Eduan Keyter, 10 Siya Masuku, 9 Cameron Wright, 8 Phepsi Buthelezi, 7 Vincent Tshituka, 6 James Venter, 5 Gerbrandt Grobler, 4 Corne Rahl, 3 Vincent Koch, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Ox Nche
Replacements: 16 Fez Mbatha, 17 Ntuthuko Mchunu, 18 Khwezi Mona, 19 Lappies Labuschagne, 20 Dylan Richardson, 21 Bradley Davids, 22 Boeta Chamberlain, 23 Diego Appollis

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

Referee: Morne Ferreira (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Cwengile Jadzweni (South Africa) and Dylen November (South Africa)
TMO: Marius Jonker (South Africa)

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

Prediction

@rugby365com: Munster by five points.

Teams: 

Munster: 15 Simon Zebo, 14 Calvin Nash, 13 Seán O’Brien, 12 Rory Scannell, 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 John Ryan, 18 Oli Jager, 19 Tom Ahern, 20 Gavin Coombes, 21 Conor Murray, 22 Joey Carbery, 23 John Hodnett

Ulster: 15 Ethan McIlroy, 14 Mike Lowry, 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 Tom O’Toole, 2 Rob Herring, 1 Eric O’Sullivan
Replacements: 16 Tom Stewart, 17 Andy Warwick, 18 Scott Wilson, 19 Harry Sheridan, 20 Matty Rea, 21 Nathan Doak, 22 Jude Postlethwaite, 23 Stewart Moore

Referee: Frank Murphy (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Robbie Jenkinson (Ireland) and Andrew Fogarty (Ireland)
TMO: Andrew Brace (Ireland)

Cardiff v Ospreys
(Cardiff City Stadium, Cardiff – Kick-off 17.30; 16.30 GMT)

Prediction

@rugby365com: Cardiff by five points.

Teams: 

Cardiff: 15 Cameron Winnett, 14 Theo Cabango, 13 Rey Lee-Lo, 12 Ben Thomas (captain), 11 Mason Grady, 10 Tinus de Beer, 9 Ellis Bevan, 8 Alun Lawrence, 7 James Botham, 6 Ben Donnell, 5 Rory Thornton, 4 Shane Lewis-Hughes, 3 Keiron Assiratti, 2 Evan Lloyd, 1 Rhys Carre
Replacement: 16 Efan Daniel, 17 Corey Domachowski, 18 Rhys Litterick, 19 Seb Davies, 20 Lopeti Timani, 21 Willis Halaholo, 22 Jacob Beetham, 23 Gabriel Hamer-Webb

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 Jac Morgan, 5 Huw Sutton, 4 James Ratti, 3 Tom Botha, 2 Dewi Lake, 1 Nicky Smith
Replacements: 16 Sam Parry, 17 Gareth Thomas, 18 Rhys Henry, 19 Victor Sekekete, 20 Harri Deaves, 21 Luke Davies, 22 Owen Williams, 23 Harri Houston

Referee: Adam Jones (Wales)
Assistant referees: Maickel English (Wales) and Elgan Williams (Wales)
TMO: Tom Spurrier (Wales)

Sources: URC & SA Rugby 

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