URC – SA Teams Looking To Return To The Field With A Bang


South Africa’s four Vodacom United Rugby Championship teams will look to return to the field with a bang after a two-week break cognisant of the fact that every result will count with only seven pool rounds remaining and only one domestic team currently in the top eight.

The second-placed Vodacom Bulls are the only team on the top half of the standings, but the DHL Stormers and Emirates Lions trail the eighth-placed Benetton by only a few points, and should they register victories, and a few other results go their way, they could leap into the top eight – which will motivate them immensely as the tournament reaches the business end.

The Hollywoodbets Sharks, meanwhile, will have their work cut out to climb the table with only one win in 11 matches, although they will be driven by the fact that a win could possibly see them jump as high as three places.

The KwaZulu-Natalians will take the field first in an action-packed Saturday when they host Irish giants Ulster in Durban at 15:00, while the DHL Stormers host Edinburgh in Cape Town at 17:05.

Both Gauteng-based teams will be on the road, with the Emirates Lions taking on Connacht in Galway at 19:h15, while the Vodacom Bulls will battle it out with the Dragons in Newport at 21:h35.

The Hollywoodbets Sharks will be determined to make the most of their home ground advantage to change their fortunes in the competition when they host Ulster at Hollywoodbets Kings Park, but they will be wary of the fact that they must deliver an effective performance all around as the fifth-placed Irishmen have been in consistent form winning seven of their 11 games.

The pressure will be squarely on the Durbanites who have struggled to close out a few tight games, which has seen them earn six losing bonus points, however, they will draw inspiration from the fact that they have put up a good fight at home, losing three of their matches by four points or fewer.

Adding to the Hollywoodbets Sharks’ motivation, they are closely matched to the opposition on defence, but they will have to sharpen up their attack, as Ulster have scored 79 points more in their 11 matches so far this season.

The DHL Stormers, meanwhile, will be desperate to bounce back from their defeat against the Vodacom Bulls after registering four wins in a row when they host Edinburgh at DHL Stadium. With the Capetonians trailing the Scottish outfit by only four points, a victory could see them leap back into the top eight.

The hosts will draw comfort from the fact that they remain unbeaten at home this season to add to their better-attacking record than the visitors, but they will be mindful of the fact that the opposition has won two more matches and that they are high on confidence after coming off three wins a row, which will spice up the clash.

In the Northern Hemisphere, the Emirates Lions will enter their encounter against Connacht at Dexcom Stadium with confidence as they find themselves in a similar situation to the DHL Stormers, trailing the home side by four points with two fewer victories in the pool rounds. However, the Gautengers boast a superior record on attack with only a few points separating the sides on defence. This all sets the scene for a thrilling match.

Connacht will enter the game with confidence after three morale-boosting wins in succession, but the Emirates Lions have done fairly well away from home, winning two matches, and earning bonus points in every other match for going down by seven points or less, which will boost their hopes possibly creating an upset.

A victory for the South Africans would also set them on the right course with another away game next week against the Ospreys in Wales.

The second-placed Vodacom Bulls, in turn, will target a bonus-point win when they cross paths with the 15th-placed Dragons at Rodney Parade where they will be hunting their fourth win in a row.

In stark contrast to the Pretoria side, the Dragons have struggled to build momentum this season, winning only two of their 11 matches, with their defence in particular letting them down.

This is exactly what will tickle the Vodacom Bulls, who currently lead the attacking statistics in the competition, with 389 points in their 11 matches to only 175 by the Dragons.

A full house of points for the Pretoria outfit will also ensure that they stay within striking range log-leaders, Leinster, who hold a narrow four-point lead over them, as they look to keep alive their hopes of possibly sneaking to the top of the table should Leinster slip up.

Match information:

Hollywoodbets Sharks v Ulster
Date: Saturday, 23 March
Venue: Hollywoodbets Kings Park, Durban
Referee: Ben Whitehouse
SA Time: 15:00
TV: SuperSport

DHL Stormers v Edinburgh
Date: Saturday, 23 March
Venue: DHL Stadium, Cape Town
Referee: Adam Jones
SA Time: 17:05
TV: SuperSport

Connacht v Emirates Lions
Date: Saturday, 23 March
Venue: Dexcom Stadium, Galway
Referee: Craig Evans
SA Time: 19:15
TV: SuperSport

Dragons v Vodacom Bulls
Date: Saturday, 23 March
Venue: Rodney Parade, Newport
Referee: Eoghan Cross
SA Time: 21:35
TV: SuperSport