Glasgow And Ulster Return To South Africa Stronger


On recent form alone, Glasgow Warriors and Ulster have returned to South Africa a lot stronger than they were in October when their two United Rugby Championship matches against the Emirates Lions and Cell C Sharks were postponed.

Glasgow’s fixture against the Emirates Lions and Ulster’s game against the Cell C Sharks was postponed at the end of October after both sides were unable to field a side after a severe bout of gastroenteritis.

The rescheduled games will take place this weekend but the form of both teams has upped significantly as the season has gone on, so much so that both could easily be considered favourites going into this weekend’s matches.

The Emirates Lions had just returned from an overseas tour where they had won all four games and lost narrowly to Ulster in the October game preceding the original fixture. The Lions would have been disappointed as they came very close to winning, while Ulster was to go through a festive season slump shortly afterwards.

Glasgow had been soundly beaten by a Cell C Sharks team fielding all their Springboks for the fixture and the Durban side was looking forward to facing the Northern Irish tourists at full strength and with momentum.

But illness forced the postponement of the two fixtures, and both games were rescheduled for this coming weekend.

Since then Ulster has gone through that slump and has recovered well to move back into the top 3, including a big win over a touring DHL Stormers side in Belfast. Their form of late has been exceptional and despite going down to Glasgow in a tough clash last Friday, they still are on course for a home playoff game.

The Sharks desperately need a victory following their home derby loss to the Stormers a fortnight ago, and currently sit in the seventh spot with a game in hand over several of the sides ahead of them.

While the points on offer would take the Sharks closer to their hope of a home playoff, they would also leapfrog the sixth-placed Vodacom Bulls if they do score a victory over Ulster.

The difference this time is that several of their biggest players are on a Springbok training camp at the moment and are not available to them. The Sharks' second-string side has struggled in pressure games this season and Director of Rugby Neil Powell will be hard at work to see they put in a good performance on their home ground this weekend.

Glasgow is on an incredible 11-game unbeaten run at the moment, and certainly has a claim to being one of the top two-form teams in the tournament right now.

When they lost to the Sharks they were still finding their feet under Franco Smith and since then the former Springbok assistant and Italy head coach have transformed them into a tough side that doesn’t lose easily, and one who are playing with a plethora of confidence at the moment.

After the Lions' narrow loss against Ulster they would have headed to Johannesburg in trepidation at playing at altitude, but with their form thus far in 2023, they would have been more than confident.

The Lions, on the other hand, have struggled, and lost three of their last four games away from home, returning to Emirates Airline Park to be on the wrong side of a result to the Sharks last Saturday.

They currently sit 14th on the log, a long way from where they were back in October and will need to use the home-ground advantage and altitude to stop Glasgow.

The Sharks will be watching their game keenly, as will the Vodacom Bulls, as both teams could benefit from a good result in Johannesburg.