URC – SA Teams Strive For Another Perfect Vodacom URC Round

 

The South African teams will be striving for another perfect round in the Vodacom United Rugby Championship as the end of the pool stages draws closer with only six rounds remaining, and the competition for quarter-final spots still wide open.

The domestic franchises made a strong statement last weekend as they registered a clean sweep of victories, and they will undoubtedly want to build on that, especially with three of the four teams occupying places in the top eight on the log.

The Vodacom Bulls will be the first team to take the field on Friday in a table-topping encounter against Leinster in Dublin, while the other three games will play out on Saturday. The Hollywoodbets Sharks host Edinburgh in Durban, Ospreys take on the Emirates Lions in Swansea and the DHL Stormers welcome Ulster to Cape Town.

With only nine points separating fourth-placed Munster and 11th-placed Ospreys, competition for quarter-final spots looks set to come down to the wire, meaning every point will count in the next few weeks.

The clash between the log-leaders Leinster and the second-placed Vodacom Bulls could prove to be a humdinger because apart from the fact that the top spot on the log will be at stake, both teams will enter the match with confidence.

Leinster are currently on 49 points and the Vodacom Bulls on 45, with the visitors holding a narrow six-point advantage on points’ difference, meaning a win for the men from Pretoria could displace Leinster from the No 1 spot. A defeat, in turn, could see the Vodacom Bulls drop a spot if the third-placed Glasgow Warriors win their match against the Scarlets.

Spicing up the clash, the Vodacom Bulls come off four successive victories – the last of which was a morale-boosting 31-10 win against the Dragons in Newport – while Leinster come of three wins in a row.

The visitors from Pretoria – who upset the Irish giants on their last visit to Dublin, the 2022 season semi-final – will draw inspiration from the fact that Leinster’s last defeat was at home when they went down 22-21 against Ulster.

Fuelling the South Africans’ motivation, they have been superior on attack this season, scoring 52 more points in their 12 outings, but they will have to be on point to make the most of this against the best defensive team in the competition – Leinster currently share that status with Munster, with both teams having conceded 206 points.

The Hollywoodbets Sharks will also be hungry for a victory against Edinburgh after getting a taste of it last week against Ulster, and they will want to take full advantage of the fact that the Scots will play in vastly different conditions to that which they are used to, and who will feel the pressure to remain in the top eight after suffering a defeat against the DHL Stormers last week.

Edinburgh may boast a better attack, but the teams are not far off on defence, which is something the visitors will want to capitalise on in a desperate attempt to stage a dramatic comeback after a disappointing start to the competition.

Interestingly, both the Hollywoodbets Sharks’ victories this season were at home, while their biggest defeat on their home patch was by four points, which will motivate them immensely to come out on top this weekend.

The Emirates Lions will also have their sights set on a victory against Ospreys in Swansea after outplaying Connacht away last weekend, which saw them sneak into the top eight.

They will, however, brace themselves for a hard-fought encounter as only four points separate the sides on the log, while they have both won six of their 12 matches.

The Johannesburgers’ attack, however, has set them apart, with the team scoring 346 points in their 12 matches – the third best in the tournament this season – while Ospreys have only scored 254, and they will certainly target this area as the eye their third win in a row.

With Ospreys boasting an impressive win record of five out of seven at home this season, this will serve as a big inspirational force to make up for their defeat against Munster last weekend.

The battle between the fifth-placed DHL Stormers and seventh-placed Ulster could also prove to be a spectacle, although the Capetonians will look to take advantage of their home ground advantage and better defensive record to give them an edge.

With the DHL Stormers remaining unbeaten at home this season and coming off a morale-boosting 43-21 victory against Edinburgh, Ulster will enter the match knowing that a massive challenge lies ahead, and with the losing team possibly facing the risk of falling out of the top eight depending on the other results this weekend, neither side will hold back.

With the DHL Stormers having conceded 30 points fewer than the opposition in their opening 12 games, Ulster is expected to place a big emphasis on converting their chances into points to keep alive their hopes of creating an upset.

Match information:

Leinster v Vodacom Bulls
Date: Friday, 29 March
Venue: RDS Arena, Dublin
Referee: Craig Evans
SA Time: 21:35
TV: SuperSport

Hollywoodbets Sharks v Edinburgh
Date: Saturday, 30 March
Venue: Hollywoodbets Kings Park, Durban
Referee: Eoghan Cross
SA Time: 15:00
TV: SuperSport

Ospreys v Emirates Lions
Date: Saturday, 30 March
Venue: Swansea.com Stadium, Swansea
Referee: Andrew Brace
SA Time: 17:05
TV: SuperSport

DHL Stormers v Ulster
Date: Saturday, 30 March
Venue: DHL Stadium, Cape Town
Referee: Sam Grove-White
SA Time: 19:15
TV: SuperSport