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United Rugby Championship Predictions – Round 7

In a matter of the more things change, the more they stay the same, the seventh round of the United Rugby Championship sees the return of South African derbies this weekend, writes Quintin van Jaarsveld.

In a matter of the more things change, the more they stay the same, the seventh round of the United Rugby Championship sees the return of South African derbies this weekend, writes Quintin van Jaarsveld.

Local teams have again been forced to adapt. In the wake of their Round Six and Seven matches against European opposition being postponed last week due to the emergence of a new Covid variant, two derbies originally scheduled for February have been brought forward. 

As a result, the Sharks will battle the Bulls in Durban on Friday evening, while the Stormers will play host to the Lions in Cape Town on Saturday afternoon, with a limited number of spectators set to attend rugby matches on South African soil for the first time in over 18 months.

In Friday’s other fixtures, Connacht will be coming in hot against Leinster in Dublin and Edinburgh will have revenge on their mind when they welcome Benetton to the Scottish capital. Saturday’s overseas offerings pit Ospreys against Ulster in Swansea and the Glasgow Warriors against the Dragons at Scotstoun.

Sharks v Bulls

Friday, 3 December – 19:00

Sharks v Bulls

Friday, 3 December – 19:00

Let there be running rugby! The makeshift return of local derbies also looks set to lead back to the fast-paced, offense-orientated style of play that dominated the Currie Cup. Humidity levels will be higher than they were in September when the Bulls marched to a successful title defence and they’ll look to follow in the vein of their record 44-10 win over the Sharks in the final rather than their stuttering showings in Europe.

To be fair, all four South African sides struggled on their maiden URC tours, which are now but distant memories of misfortune. Instead, the Currie Cup decider is a better gauge of what we can expect style-wise. Much has changed for the Sharks since their Loftus humiliation.

They have loaded their team with key Springboks Siya Kolisi, Lukhanyo Am, Makazole Mapimpi and Bongi Mbonambi, the latter set to make his debut for the Durban franchise, plus they have Pumas flyhalf Joaquin Diaz Bonilla on the pine. With such a world-class line-up, they should be able to overcome the power, pace and precision of Jake White’s men.

Prediction: Sharks by 3.

Edinburgh v Benetton

Friday, 3 December – 21:35

Impressive Edinburgh will look to set the record straight in this rematch. The Scots were in the driver’s seat in the Round Two tussle in Treviso right until Leonardo Marin slotted a match-winning drop goal in the final play of the game. The young flyhalf was at it again last weekend, condemning Glasgow to the same fate with a penalty goal in injury time to earn himself the nickname “Scot Slayer.”

Edinburgh is on a roll and was electric in their 30-15 dismantling of the Dragons last weekend, claiming a full-house to pull within a point of the log leaders. Argentina fullback Emiliano Boffelli starred on debut and instantly added extra sting to the tail in a try-scoring opening act.

Red-hot and bolstered, Edinburgh will have learned from the missed opportunity in Treviso and will be too good for Benetton on home soil, where chances of a late shower could make for an even more daunting task for the visitors. The possibility of rain and the fact that Benetton has only been blown out once this season has me backing them on the plus.

Prediction: Edinburgh by 10.

Suggested Bet: Benetton +11.5 at 1.82.

Leinster v Connacht

Friday, 3 December – 21:45

This is set to be a cracker. You have one side bullish to bounce back and another firing on all cylinders. Expect a backlash from a bruised Leinster after they suffered their first loss of the season last weekend. That the 20-10 defeat to fellow Irish giants Ulster came at home made it that much more difficult to swallow.

It has to be said Leinster limped into the top-of-the-table derby and that they were in the contest right up to the final two minutes before an intercept tries sealed their fate spoke volumes of the injury-ravaged side’s character. They’re set to be without a string of Test stars again this weekend, including Johnny Sexton, Jack Conan, Conor O’Brien, and Dave Kearney.

Connacht conquered Ulster before the international break and a runaway win over the Ospreys last weekend will leave them confident that they can tick Leinster off their hit list as well. Leo Cullen’s charges will be ultra-determined and should avoid back-to-back home losses and I’m convinced that informing Connacht will cover the big handicap.

Prediction: Leinster by 5.

Suggested Bet: Connacht +16.5 at 1.82.

Stormers v Lions

Saturday, 4 December – 17:00

With some rain/drizzle on the cards, the Cape Town clash won’t be as free-flowing as the Durban derby’s shaping up to be, but there should nevertheless be plenty of action and spice. Both teams welcome back influential players but the caliber of stars who strengthen the Stormers outweigh that of the visitors.

The Lions’ record in local derbies has been abysmal in recent years; they were the wooden spoonists of the Currie Cup and simply don’t have the firepower of the rest of the sides. With the Stormers having a home-ground advantage to boot, I can’t see anything but a somewhat comfortable victory for the Capetonians.

Prediction: Stormers by 11.

Ospreys v Ulster

Saturday, 4 December – 17:00

Coming off a crushing 46-18 defeat to Connacht, things only get tougher for the Ospreys. Home comforts will help, but Ulster’s league-shaking win over Leinster makes them heavy favourites for good reason. As just their second win at the RDS following their maiden triumph at the venue in 2013, it’s a special kind of momentum for Ulster, who moved level on points with their table-topping Dublin rivals. John McFarland will ensure his men build on that.

Prediction: Ulster by 14.

Suggested Bet: Ulster -6.5 at 1.82

Glasgow Warriors v Dragons

Saturday, 4 December – 21:35

Two teams struggling for form close out the round on what will be a real chilly night in Glasgow. The visitors are the worse off of the two, their 15-point loss to Edinburgh last weekend being their third in a row. The Warriors, in turn, were seconds away from victory before it was snatched away from them by Marin.

It was their second successive loss, following a 31-15 reverse against Leinster, so this is a pivotal game for them. The pressure will be on the hosts but they’ve shown far more promise than a Dragons side who’ve mustered just one win and should come out on top with room to spare.

Prediction: Glasgow Warriors by 12.

Suggested Bet: Glasgow Warriors -10.5 at 1.84.

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    Quintin Van Jaarsveld is a former MDDA-Sanlam SA Local Sports Journalist of the Year and a former three-time Vodacom KwaZulu-Natal Sports Journalist of the Year. Formerly the sports editor and Outstanding Journalist of the Year award winner at The Fever Media Group, deputy editor at eHowzit, editor at SARugby.com and senior staff writer at Rugby365.com, he boasts over 15 years’ experience and is currently a freelance sports writer.

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