South African derbies will add extra spice to the final round of the United Rugby Championship before the November break this weekend, writes Quintin van Jaarsveld.
The Lions host the Stormers at Ellis Park on Saturday afternoon and the Bulls welcome the Sharks to Loftus Versfeld for a special pink day showdown in support of Breast Cancer Awareness Month on Sunday afternoon.
Scarlets v Leinster
Friday, 28 October – 20:35
Brushed aside 34-16 by Connacht last weekend, things get considerably tougher for the Scarlets as they return home for a meeting against imperious Leinster.
Leo Cullen’s charges stand tall atop the table as the only remaining unbeaten team following their latest conquest, a 27-13 win over Munster, and have too much depth and class for their Welsh foes.
Connacht were able to outmuscle the Scarlets, scoring with direct rugby and forcing a penalty try, so expect Leinster to manhandle the hosts on a rainy night.
Glasgow Warriors v Benetton
Friday, 28 October – 20:35
Back home after gastro had them laying low and unable to front the Lions in Johannesburg, Glasgow will be looking to get back on track after their 40-12 drubbing by the Sharks in Durban. They’ll also be out for revenge after Benetton blew them away (33-11) in their first meeting in Round One.
It’s now become clear that they were caught cold in that opening clash. Benetton have now dropped heavy back-to-back losses and even though the Warriors will be without their internationals, they’ll be too strong for the men from Treviso at home, where they’re two from two having turned back Cardiff (52-24) and the Bulls (35-21) in style.
Lions v Stormers
Saturday, 29 October – 16:00
The Springbok factor changes the complexion of both of the weekend’s local derbies. Not only has franchises’ preparation been disrupted this week, with their stars having been in Stellenbosch for the national training camp from Sunday to Wednesday, but they’ll also be without their core Springboks as the main squad will depart for Dublin on Saturday.
The Lions, with their mix of promising young stars and journeymen, are the only unaffected team and, therefore, have a golden opportunity to get one over the understrength defending champions.
Stunned by Cardiff and having travelled back from the Welsh capital, the Stormers have had no shortage of challenges this week and will be welcomed by a fresh Lions team after their clash with Glasgow was postponed due to the aforementioned gastro infections in the visitors’ camp.
They’ll be missing their Springbok heavies but Manie Libbok is set to be available. He’s the glue of the Cape side and with him at No 10, not all rhythm will be lost.
Aside from their opening-round loss to the Bulls, the Lions have played some great rugby and with everything in their favour, I have to back them to claim a win that would otherwise have been highly improbable.
Dragons v Zebre
Saturday, 29 October – 18:15
After their 32-25 upset of the Ospreys, all signs point to another win for the Dragons as winless Zebre can’t get out of their own way, MJ Pelser’s first-half red card in the 38-19 loss to Edinburgh being the latest example.
Munster v Ulster
Saturday, 29 October – 18:15
A young Munster side showed guts to trail Leinster by just 7-6 at halftime before falling off in the second stanza to lose by 14. Their struggle is structural with the players still trying to adapt to life under new coach Graham Rowntree.
Gastro notwithstanding, Ulster are better off for having been spared a showdown with a full-strength Sharks side. They’ve had a few extra days to study their battling rivals and are cohesively in far better shape.
It’s because they’re such a well-drilled team that they sit second with a record of 4-1 and it’s also why they’ll get the better of Munster.
Ospreys v Connacht
Saturday, 29 October – 20:35
The Ospreys are licking their wounds after being ambushed by the underdog Dragons in a wild derby. They’ve made life harder on themselves through indiscipline and a malfunctioning lineout and are catching Connacht at the wrong time.
Andy Friend’s side gelled and shifted the point of attack well in their five-try 36-14 win over the Scarlets. Their set pieces have been solid and now that they’ve discovered their attacking flow, I see them claiming a second Welsh scalp in as many weeks.
Bulls v Sharks
Sunday, 30 October – 15:00
You have to feel for the Sharks. First, they were denied the chance to beat Ulster due to gastro in the Irish camp and now they’re set to head into a crunch derby without Siya Kolisi, Eben Etzebeth, Bongi Mbonambi, Makazole Mapimpi, Jaden Hendrikse and Ox Nche, all of whom would’ve powered their cause last weekend if not for the controversial postponement.
The Bulls, in turn, will benefit from continuity with possibly only Kurt-Lee Arendse, Canan Moodie and Sbu Nkosi away with the Springboks. That leaves big guns such as Marcell Coetzee, Marco van Staden and Bismarck du Plessis – who collectively bossed the breakdown in the 44-22 win over Benetton – and the likes of Ruan Nortje, Chris Smith and Morne Steyn to drive a settled side to victory.
Cardiff v Edinburgh
Sunday,30 October – 17:00
Even without 10 of their internationals, Edinburgh were able to coast past Zebre. As mentioned, though, the Italians played most of the match with 14 men, so this will be a real test of Edinburgh’s depth.
Cardiff are on a massive high after ending the Stormers’ 15-match unbeaten streak to stretch their own winning run to three. Playing at home again should help them continue their winning ways.