United Rugby Championship Predictions – Round 6

URC Player Ratings

25 November 2021

Local teams will look to turn the tables on their Northern Hemisphere counterparts on home turf as the United Rugby Championship comes to South Africa this weekend, writes Quintin van Jaarsveld.

After a month-long break to accommodate the Autumn Nations Series, the new league bursts back to life with teams from Italy, Wales and Ireland touching down on South African soil.

For the first time in over 18 months, fans will be in attendance and although the Disaster Management Act only allows for 2000 spectators, they are sure to add fuel to the fire of the South African teams, who endured baptisms of fire abroad and will be bolstered by a few returning Springboks.

Three of the four local sides will be in action on Saturday, starting with the Stormers, who welcome Zebre to Cape Town. The Sharks square off against Scarlets in Durban while a colossal clash is in store at Loftus Versfeld, where the Bulls battle Munster. The Lions close out the round against Cardiff in the sole Sunday showdown.

Connacht and Ospreys kick-off the action on Friday night, while Saturday’s menu includes Benetton taking on the Glasgow Warriors, the Dragons entertaining Edinburgh and the mouth-watering Irish derby between Leinster and Ulster.

Connacht v Ospreys

Friday, 26 November – 21:35

The break came at the worst possible time for Connacht as it robbed them of the opportunity to ride the momentum of their stunning 36-11 upset of previously unbeaten Ulster. After flying under the radar somewhat, Ospreys fired a similar shot by stopping Munster’s perfect run with a shock 18-10 win. With just one loss, they’re the leading Welsh club and four spots higher than their hosts in fifth place.

That these teams are 5-5 in their last 10 fixtures highlights how ultra-competitive this rivalry is. Their matches are mainly close and generally won by the home team. Having shown what they’re capable of against Ulster and with Test stars like Bundee Aki and Jack Carty, the scale tips in Connacht’s favour.

Prediction: Connacht by 8.

Suggested Bet: Connacht -5.5 at 1.84.

Benetton v Glasgow Warriors

Saturday, 27 November – 15:00

The Warriors are the better team, but Benetton are scrappers, so expect a close contest in Treviso. The longer Benetton are in touching distance, the more dangerous they become. For all their fighting spirit, though, the Italian outfit are on a three-match losing streak.

Glasgow ran into Leinster just before the break. They would’ve been disappointed that they didn’t put up a better fight against the title favourites, succumbing 31-15. However, it spoke to the fact that they haven’t been able to get out of first gear.

Credit to them for winning three in a row before then, but the latter two over the Lions (13-9) and Zebre (17-6) were far from convincing. In what’s essentially a pick ’em, there’s good value in the underdog hosts.

Prediction: Benetton by 2.

Suggested Bet: Benetton at 2.30.

Stormers v Zebre

Saturday, 27 November – 15:00

The best bet of a triumphant homecoming as far as the South African sides are concerned. Rain is in the region but is forecast to stay away during the game. The Stormers are the leaders of the local shield, while Zebre are the only remaining winless team in the league.
The Cape side scored a dramatic 31-30 win over the Cheetahs in a Toyota Challenge clash two weeks ago to shake off the cobwebs and should put enough points on the leaky Italian minnows to cover the spread.

Prediction: Stormers by 26.

Suggested Bet: Stormers -23.5 at 1.91.

Sharks v Scarlets

Saturday, 27 November – 17:30

Defence has been the focus for the Durbanites this week following their 40-34 defeat to the Cheetahs at the weekend. They boast a 90% tackle success rate in the URC, the third-best in the league, so their structures are sound. The blow-up in Bloemfontein thus came at the right time to ensure they sharpen their teeth.

Scarlets, who’re four places above the Sharks in 10th position, are a mid-table team in terms of scoring tries (seventh with 14) and making metres (seventh with 1746) but have the potential to strike at a moment’s notice. Ranked fifth in offloads (46) and clean breaks (23), they like to up the tempo and are a problem if teams allow them to build momentum.

Playing at home, in overcast conditions, the Sharks – who’re set to be boosted by Springbok danger men Sbu Nkosi and Aphelele Fassi – should be more accurate on attack and rock up on defence to pass a tricky test.

Prediction: Sharks by 7.

Suggested Bet: Scarlets +9.5 at 1.84.

Dragons v Edinburgh

Saturday, 27 November – 19:15

The Dragons have been far more competitive than their 1-4 record suggests. Three of their four losses were by four points or fewer, with the Stormers being the only side who soundly put them away (24-10). The 7-6 loss to Leinster showed they’re a problem for even the best in the league, but the 31-29 loss to Cardiff last time out highlighted their inability to get over the hump in tight matches.

Edinburgh have been understated winners thus far, their only loss coming via a last-gasp drop-goal by Benetton’s Leonardo Marin, while they also played to a 20-all draw with the Stormers. Those bonus points, along with wins over Scarlets, the Bulls and Zebre see them sit fourth behind the three Irish giants.

Thanks to a slew of international stars, they’re a step ahead of the Dragons when it comes to getting over the line, and in a game of small margins, that should prove decisive.

Prediction: Edinburgh by 3.

Suggested Bet: Edinburgh -2.5 at 1.84.

Bulls v Munster

Saturday, 27 November – 19:45

As the leading South African team post-lockdown, the men from Pretoria underperformed woefully on their maiden tour north and find themselves second from bottom. The Bulls are a different beast at their fortress, especially under Jake White, and it’ll be their mission to make that categorically clear by turning back one of the top teams in the league in what promises to be a titanic battle.

Third-placed Munster, meanwhile, will look to make a statement of their own after having their unbeaten run ended by the Ospreys last time out. It won’t be hot but the Highveld factor will come into play. That’s usually good for around seven points, which falls under the sizeable 9.5-point handicap.

In a game that could go either way, I’m expecting the Bulls to put their best foot forward and eke out a campaign-changing win.

Prediction: Bulls by 5.

Suggested Bet: Munster +9.5 at 1.84.

Leinster v Ulster

Saturday, 27 November – 22:00

A blockbuster top-of-the-table clash. When one glances back to the last round when Ulster’s unbeaten start came to a screeching halt courtesy of Connacht (36-11), the 14.5-point handicap seems pretty spot on. Visiting teams simply don’t win at the Aviva Stadium often.

What’s more, Leinster are the last remaining unbeaten team in the tournament and they’ve dominated this derby, winning nine of the last 10 matches including the last six in a row. If ever Ulster had a sniff, though, it’s now. Ireland’s heroics in the Autumn Nations Series, punctuated by a 29-20 win over the All Blacks, have left Leinster without a number of key players.

Captain Johnny Sexton, vice-captain James Ryan and Jack Conan have all been ruled out, Jamison Gibson-Park is a concern while Conor O’Brien and Dave Kearney are also on the sidelines after picking up injuries in last week’s Leinster ‘A’ game. They have the pedigree to pull through, but I do think Ulster will push them close on a cold and wet night.

Prediction: Leinster by 6.

Suggested Bet: Ulster +14.5 at 1.84.

Lions v Cardiff

Sunday, 28 November – 16:00

Thirteen plays seven on the log to wrap up the round. Cardiff’s 31-29 triumph over the Dragons in the last round was their second in a row and gave them a winning record of 3-2. They’re 1-1 against South African opposition, though (losing 29-19 to the Bulls and beating the Sharks 23-17), which will give the Lions confidence.

The expected returns of Eddie Fouché, Tiaan Swanepoel and Springbok bruiser Willem Alberts are game-changing for the pride of Johannesburg, who were forced to field fullback EW Viljoen at flyhalf in the injury-enforced absence of Fouché and Jordan Hendrikse.

As committed as Cardiff is, the Lions will want this one more as it’s the first fixture following the tragic death of Jannie du Plessis’ one-year-old son last week. That motivation, along with the aforementioned triple boost and their good old ally altitude should see them squeak home.

Prediction: Lions by 3.

Suggested Bet: Cardiff +5.5 at 1.84.

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