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PREVIEW: Fascinating round of URC action in store before November internationals

We head into the fifth week of the URC this weekend without the South African teams who have all returned to the Republic after their respective tours.

Joey Carbery of Munster - URC
Image Copyright - Steve Haag Sports

We head into the fifth round of the United Rugby Championship this weekend without the South African teams who have all returned to the Republic after their respective tours. The headline game this weekend sees Glasgow Warriors host Leinster at the Scotstoun Stadium on Friday evening. Elsewhere, Connacht face off against Ulster in an Irish Derby, the Ospreys welcome Munster to the Liberty and Benetton travel make the trip to Parc y Scarlets.

Two women looking excitedly at cellphone

Friday 22 October

Glasgow 44/10 | Draw 25/1 | Leinster 17/100 (20:35)

Handicap
Glasgow (+11.5) 17/20 | Leinster (-11.5) 17/20

We open the weekend’s action at Scotstoun Stadium where the Warriors face Leinster. The Scottish side made it three URC wins on the bounce after scrapping their way to a 17-6 win away at Zebre. A dominant first-half display from Danny Wilson’s men gave way to an insipid second half against the Italians, a side that they should be putting away with ease. A similar performance against Leinster this weekend will result in a pasting.

Leinster were great were outstanding against the Scarlets, running in six tries in a 50-15 win at the RDS Arena. Despite falling behind twice early on, the Irish side went into the break leading 22-8, before blowing the Welsh side away in the second stanza. I fully expect Leinster to win this. They’ve won both of their last games by 35 points or more and seem to be hitting their straps. Small play on the Leinster minus here.

Scarlets 1/4 | Draw 22/1 | Benetton 32/10 (20:35)

Handicap
Scarlets (-9.5) 17/20 | Benetton (9.5) 17/20

The Scarlets were comprehensively put away by Leinster last week in a 50-15 drubbing at the RDS. That result came hot on the heels of a 43-13 home defeat to a largely second-strong Munster. Dwayne Peel and his charges will be feeling the pressure after a poor start to the season has left them languishing near the foot of the table with just a solitary win.

Benetton went down narrowly against the Ospreys last week but may fancy their chances at Parc y Scarlets on Friday evening. They dominated the first half against the Welsh side but would head into the sheds 12-7 down. The Italians would be blitzed in early in the second half, trailing 26-7 at one point. They’d bring the scores level before a late Stephen Myler penalty would sink the Italians as they lost their discipline toward the end of the match. Purely on form, I’ll be backing Benetton to remain within a generous (+9.5) handicap.

Saturday 23 October

Zebre 7/4 | Draw 18/1 | Edinburgh 5/10 (14:00)

Handicap 
Zebre (+4.5) 17/20 | Edinburgh (-4.5) 17/20

We’re off to Parma next where winless Zebre play host to Edinburgh. It’s been a forgettable campaign thus far for the Italians who find themselves rooted to the foot of the table after suffering defeats at the hands of the Lions, Uslter, Leinster and Glasgow. They showed some improvement last week against the Warriors but still went down 17-6.

They face another Scottish side this week. Edinburgh were deserved winners against the Bulls last time out, but did appear to get plenty of help from Welsh referee Ben Whitehouse who penalised the Tshwane franchise out of the contest. The Scots should really have the measure of Zebre who have looked well out of their depth this season. 5/10 represents good value here.

Cardiff 1/3 | Draw 22/1 | Dragons 5/2 (18:15)

Handicap
Cardiff (-7.5) 17/20 | Dragons (+7.5) 17/20

Cardiff weathered a 20-minute spell at the start of the second half last week to run out 23-17 victors against the Sharks. That period didn’t tell the story of the whole game, however, as the Blues’ physicality appeared to catch the Sharks on the back foot. Rhys Priestland was again good off the tee, keeping the Sharks at arm’s length. Worryingly, this was the second successive week in which Cardiff saw a commanding lead clawed back by determined South African opposition after the Bulls roared back from 16-0 down to beat the Blues 29-19.

The Blues’ physicality may well worry the Dragons if the Newport club’s performance against the Stormers last week is anything to go by. The Cape Town franchise dominated proceedings in the second half to bag a 24-10 win, shutting out the Dragons in the second stanza. Cardiff at home should prove too strong for the Dragons. And if they can win the physical battle, should clear the 7.5-point handicap. Small play on the minus.

Connacht 16/10 | Draw 18/1 | Ulster 54/100 (18:15)

Handicap
Connacht (+4.5) 17/20 | Ulster (-4.5) 17/20

Connacht face a potentially season-defining encounter against Ulster this weekend. They are the worst off of the Irish provinces with a solitary win to their name. Against Munster, they were in the fight right to the end, relinquishing their 18-13 lead in the 78th minute as Diarmuid Barron crashed over to score with Joey Carbery slotting the decisive conversion in a 20-18 defeat. That performance would have given them confidence, and they may fancy their chances at the Aviva.

Ulster have enjoyed a dream start to the URC and currently top the standings with four bonus-point wins from four games. They scored a regulation 26-10 win over the Lions last week at the Kingspan where the Gauteng franchise put in another error-strewn display. Still, they executed well enough to bag the BP, outscoring the South Africans by four tries to one. Connacht showed enough against Munster last week for me to have a nibble on the +4.5-point handicap.

Ospreys 44/10 | Draw 25/1 | Munster 1/6 (20:35)

Handicap 
Ospreys (+11.5) 17/20 | Munster (-11.5) 17/20

We round off the weekend’s action at the Liberty where Ospreys will face off against Munster. The Welsh side threw away a 26-7 lead against Benetton last week, allowing the Italians to draw level before Stephen Myler kicked a late penalty to secure a 29-26 win.

Munster will be licking their lips at the prospect of facing off against Toby Booth’s side who have lacked consistency in the URC. The Irish province made it four wins from four last week as a late try saw them beat Connacht 20-18. Munster look good value on the minus here. They’ve scored the most points in the competition this season and comfortably see off the Welsh side.

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