United Rugby Championship Predictions – Round 4

United Rugby Championship Predictions
By

14 October 2021

The South African teams will look to end their maiden European tours on a high in the fourth round of the United Rugby Championship, writes Quintin van Jaarsveld.

The only local side yet to pick up a win, the Stormers will be desperate to end their drought when they take on the Dragons in Newport on Friday night while the Lions lock up with impressive Ulster in Belfast at the same time.

On Saturday, it’ll be about building on the momentum of their historic wins when the Bulls encounter Edinburgh and the Sharks collide with Cardiff.

Dragons v Stormers

Friday, 15 October – 20:35

Two improving teams looking to continue their growth kick-off the round. After two narrow losses, the Dragons broke their duck in style away from home, stunning Connacht 35-22. What’s especially concerning for the Capetonians is that it was a complete performance by the Welsh outfit, who scored four tries and 15 points off the boot of Sam Davies. That it was their first win at the Sportsground in over 17 years will add further fire to a team that nearly shocked Leinster (losing 7-6) in Round Two.

The Stormers stepped up their game considerably last weekend. They could and probably should’ve left Edinburgh with a win, however, they’ll take plenty of positives from the 20-all draw and will fancy their chances of earning that elusive first win in Newport.

To do so, they’ll have to stop the lateral running in midfield and eliminate the soft individual errors on defence that cost them so dearly against Edinburgh. A few steps ahead, having cut out the mistakes they made in the first two rounds and found their mojo, the Dragons should get it done in a close contest.  

Prediction: Dragons by 5.

Suggested Bet: Dragons -3.5 at 1.84.

Ulster v Lions

Friday, 15 October – 20:35

After being robbed of a deserved victory in Glasgow, the Lions will have ample aggression and motivation. Unfortunately, that won’t be enough against an Irish giant who’s been perfect so far. Three games, three bonus-point wins, the latest a 20-point bashing of previously unbeaten Benetton. 

That the self-same Warriors who profited from a contentious call to edge the Lions gave Ulster their biggest challenge of the season – when Dan McFarland’s men came away with a 35-29 win in the opening round – will give the pride of Johannesburg hope. 

The scrums and mauls will be what Ivan van Rooyen’s charges rely on after their dominance in these departments. They’ll be met by a stone wall, though, as they run into a team who are as potent on attack as they are organised on defence. Having given so much, the Lions will be outgunned, their maiden mission in Belfast a bridge way too far.

Prediction: Ulster by 24.

Suggested Bet: Ulster -20.5 at 1.84.

Zebre v Glasgow Warriors

Saturday, 16 October – 14:00

One can look at the Lions as the measuring stick with which to separate these sides. Heavy defeats to Leinster (43-7) and Ulster (36-3) are nothing new for Zebre, but a 38-26 loss to the Lions in the tournament opener was. Glasgow beat the Johannesburg team, albeit fortuitously, and played at a high tempo that winless Zebre won’t be able to keep up with. The Warriors have only lost once to the Italian minnows, back in April 2016, and usually beat them handsomely. Expect that to continue. 

Prediction: Glasgow Warriors by 15.

Suggested Bet: Glasgow Warriors -10.5 at 1.82. 

Benetton v Ospreys

Saturday, 16 October – 16:00

Their own worst enemy in the loss to the Sharks, the Ospreys will be out to right those wrongs in Treviso. At the top of the list is the litany of handing errors – north of 15 – that served as chum for the Sharks. Benetton were blown out of the water by Ulster, offering little in their 28-8 loss. 

The Italians are very much a home ground team. Returning to their stomping ground, where they are 2-0 this season, gives them the edge, particularly when you factor in that the last seven clashes in this rivalry were all won by the team playing at home. 

Prediction: Benetton by 3. 

Suggested Bet: Ospreys +3.5 at 1.82.

Edinburgh v Bulls

Saturday, 16 October – 18:15

After the Stormers shone the spotlight on Edinburgh’s vulnerabilities, the Bulls will be brimming with belief that they can topple Mike Blair’s men. Looking lethargic in the first half, the Pretoria outfit finally came good in the second stanza to sink Cardiff after trailing by 13 at the break. 

With the 29-19 watershed win in the bag, the Bulls will be reinvigorated and will empty the tank to turn what started as a nightmare tour into a satisfactory sojourn. Aside from Jaco van der Walt’s magic touches that led to two early tries, Edinburgh offered little ingenuity on attack and thus made it easy enough for the Stormers to hold their line. 

What they did show on offence was patience, which will test the Bulls’ discipline as well as their stamina to get off the ground and rush back into the defensive line after making tackles. Super-sub Arno Botha showed the need for speed and energy in the back row, which coupled with Tappe Henning’s insight into Northern Hemisphere referees’ law interpretations at the breakdown, should see the Bulls improve in this all-important area.

Losing star flyhalf Johan Goosen is a massive blow, but Chris Smith showed he’s up for the task and while he’s more of a kick-centric pivot, he’s far from one-dimensional. With the power of their pack, pace of their outside backs and improvements at the tackle area, the Bulls have what it takes to edge an Edinburgh team ripe for the picking.

Prediction: Bulls by 3.

Suggested Bet: Bulls at 2.20.

Leinster v Scarlets

Saturday, 16 October – 18:15

Scarlets are riding the pain train in Ireland. Their first stop in Limerick ended in a 43-13 lashing and things won’t get any more pleasant in Dublin, where they’ll run into the same problems. The Irish teams are the yardstick, Munster, Ulster and Leinster occupying the top three places on the log (in that order) as the only remaining unbeaten teams. With scattered showers forecast for the area all weekend, Scarlets will feel like they’re stuck in quicksand sans the requisite rescue plan. 

Prediction: Leinster by 21.

Suggested Bet: Leinster -19.5 at 1.84.

Cardiff v Sharks

Saturday, 16 October – 20:35

Seated in the stands, the Sharks got a close-up look at Cardiff and the blueprint the Bulls provided to beat them. Superior physicality will be paramount and while they don’t possess the same firepower as the men from Pretoria, the Sharks do have strong ball carriers. This will be more of a mirror match with the Durbanites having similar compact and fast back-rowers as their hosts, so this promises to be a high-octane affair on the 4G pitch. 

Boeta Chamberlain’s hat-trick of drop goals stole the headlines in the Sharks’ historic 27-13 win over the Ospreys last Friday and as spectacular as they were, they formed part of a bigger picture, that being that they took their opportunities. They’ll put a premium on replicating that clinical conversion rate on their first visit to Cardiff Arms Park. 

Lost in the thrill of their attacking antics was their stoic defence. With a 92% tackle success rate, they looked like a team transformed and adapted brilliantly after conceding a string of early ruck penalties as well. It’s these improvements I believe will get them over the line for the second successive week…by the narrowest of margins.

Prediction: Sharks by 1.

Suggested Bet: Sharks at 2.35.

Munster v Connacht

Saturday, 16 October – 20:35

Sitting pretty atop the table, Munster are a mean machine. Worrying for the rest of the field, they have the depth to maintain the fast start they’ve gotten off to. Connacht, meanwhile, are coming off a minor calamity, a heavy loss at home against a team they were expected to beat. The 35-22 defeat to the Dragons erased the runaway win over the Bulls the previous week, leaving their record at 1-2 and staring down the barrel. Rain is expected and they will duly be drowned by the red-hot hosts. 

Prediction: Munster by 17.

Suggested Bet: Munster -14.5 at 1.84.

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