It’s all about the South African Shield in Round 11 of the United Rugby Championship this weekend, writes Quintin van Jaarsveld.
Saturday’s local derby action kicks off at Ellis Park, where the Lions square off against the Sharks before the Bulls and Stormers lock horns at Loftus Versfeld, where the Capetonians can clinch the South African silverware.
Edinburgh v Ospreys
Friday, 1 March – 21:35
The Ospreys will fancy their chances to pick up a massive away win after stunning Ulster 19-17 and watching Edinburgh being pushed hard by Zebre in the previous round.
The Scottish side made life hard for themselves in Italy, conceding two yellow cards in their 24-19 win, so discipline will be the key word for them this week.
That focus on being clinical as well as home ground advantage should see Sean Everitt’s side seal their third straight win.
Munster v Zebre
Friday, 1 March – 21:35
Munster showed they’re just fine without their Six Nations stars as they stormed to a 42-7 away win over the Scarlets in the previous round. Zebre, meanwhile, had little to no sting in their attack without their internationals, crossing Edinburgh’s line just once in the above-mentioned loss.
They’ll find it even tougher to penetrate Munster’s defence and will struggle to cope with the pressure the Irish outfit will put them under, so expect a comfortable win for the hosts.
Lions v Sharks
Saturday, 2 March – 15:00
The Lions were uncharacteristically blunt with ball in hand in their 25-10 home loss to the Bulls last time out and will want to return to their flair-filled ways against the Sharks, who produced one of their better performances against the Stormers yet suffered another defeat (25-21) that left them still with just a single win in their 10 games.
Both teams are out of the running for the South African Shield, but the Lions – sitting in 11th position overall – are very much in the playoff picture and will be determined to make home ground advantage count. Meanwhile, the Durbanites, down in last place, seek revenge for the 20-18 loss at home the last time the teams met in January.
This one could go either way, but the Lions are at home and are the more settled side. The star-studded Sharks still don’t have concrete direction and game drivers to get them over the line, so I’m leaning towards the Lions.
Benetton v Glasgow Warriors
Saturday, 2 March – 17:00
No. 4 hosts No. 2 in a crunch clash in Treviso. Benetton had their four-match winning streak snapped by Leinster last time out (47-18), while the Warriors shot up to second place with a 40-7 drubbing of the Dragons.
Glasgow know exactly how tough Benetton are to beat in their backyard having come up short in their last three visits, but with momentum on their side, they have the ability to break out of the box the conservative Italians will look to put them in.
With their dynamism on attack and structure on defence, Glasgow are worth backing.
Bulls v Stormers
Saturday, 2 March – 17:05
Intensity will be at its peak in Pretoria as the Bulls strive to finally break their drought against their arch-rivals while the Stormers seek to secure another piece of silverware.
A packed Loftus is expected to cheer on Jake White’s charges, who lead the Stormers on the overall table but find themselves second in the South African Shield as only derbies count towards the regional competition.
With a two-point lead over the Bulls and just one round of derby matches after this weekend’s games, the Stormers will claim the South African Shield with a win.
John Dobson’s men have been Mzanzi’s best, with their 25-21 triumph over the Sharks in Durban in the previous round being their 15th straight win over South African opposition, while they’re also on a seven-match winning streak against the Bulls.
Time and time again, the Stormers have dealt with the power of their arch-rivals and found a way to win, whether it be through superior synergy, discipline, ingenuity or conversion rate and I see them doing the same on Saturday.
Connacht v Scarlets
Saturday, 2 March – 19:05
Outside of the top eight by a single point, 10th-placed Connacht will pursue a full house against the out-of-sorts Scarlets. The Irish side edged Cardiff 16-12 away from home in the previous round and will have far too much firepower for the visitors, who are on a seven-match losing run in all competitions and coming off a 35-point mauling by Munster.
Cardiff v Leinster
Saturday, 2 March – 21:35
The above-mentioned loss to Connacht was the fourth on the trot for Cardiff and their fortunes won’t change this weekend as they welcome the log leaders to the Arms Park.
Leinster’s enviable depth was underlined by their 47-18 win over Benetton and the shock 29-27 loss they suffered against Cardiff in 2022 will ensure there’s no complacency on their part, so expect a big win for Leo Cullen’s charges.
Ulster v Dragons
Saturday, 2 March – 21:35
Ulster’s 19-17 away loss to the Ospreys last time out was the worst possible result for the Dragons, who should brace for a ruthless onslaught. The Welsh region have been woeful this season, managing just two wins, and were hammered 40-7 by the Warriors, so it’ll be one-way traffic in Belfast.