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PREVIEW: Sharks, Bulls will fancy their chances in round 4 of the URC

In the URC this week, the Sharks and Bulls will fancy their chances against Cardiff and Edinburgh respectively. The Stormers face a Dragons side who’ll have their tails ups after beating Connacht while the Lions travel to the Kingspan to face Ulster.

Henco Venter of the Sharks - URC
Image Copyright - Steve Haag Sports

In the URC this week, the Sharks and Bulls will fancy their chances against Cardiff and Edinburgh respectively. The Stormers face a Dragons side who’ll have their tails ups after beating Connacht while the Lions travel to the Kingspan to face Ulster.

Two women looking excitedly at cellphone

Week three of the URC saw the South African sides come to life with the Sharks and Bulls grabbing wins, the Stormers earning a credible draw and the Lions grabbing a losing bonus point. Will the South Africans find more joy this week? Let’s take a look.

Friday 15 October

Dragons 62/100 | Draw 20/1 | Stormers 14/10 (20:35)

Dragons (-2.5) 17/20 | Stormers (+2.5) 17/20

The Dragons will be looking to build on their sensational 35-22 win over Connacht last week – only their second ever win in Galway. It was the first win for the Newport-based side this season following defeats at the hands of the Ospreys and Leinster. A second-half blitz got the job done for the Welsh side who ran in three tries in 18 minutes. Discipline was once again a problem for Dragons, however, who conceded 14 penalties on the day. 

The Stormers were good value for their 20-20 draw against Edinburgh last week. John Dobson’s men showed great character to come back into the match after the Scots raced into an early 14-0 lead. Tries from Warrick Gelant and Paul de Wet and a pair of penalties from Tim Swiel ensured the sides went into the break with the scores locked at 20-20. There would be no further points in the game. The team appears to be settled now, and will want to end their tour on a high before returning to Cape Town.  Dragons to win on the board at 62/100 is my play here.

Ulster 1/33 | Draw 40/1 | Lions 10/1 (20:35)

Ulster (-20.5) 17/20 | Lions (+20.5) 17/20

Ulster made it three from three last week with a straight-forward win against Benetton at the Kingspan. 19-year-old scrumhalf Nathan Doak was impressed again for the Ulstermen, scoring 18 of his team’s 28 points – two tries and four conversions. It’s worth mentioning that he’s claimed MoTM awards in both of his senior starts for the team. Don’t be surprised if he’s called up for Ireland’s upcoming autumn internationals.

The Lions would have felt robbed by a woeful piece of officiating last week in their narrow 13-9 loss at the hands of Glasgow. Italian Referee Gianluca Gnecchi was quick to award the 2nd-minute try even though Jamie Bhatti was clearly short of the line before EW Viljoen managed to wrestle the ball away from the prop. The conversion was slotted before replays showed the ball to be short, so the score would stand. The match wasn’t a great advert for the competition with both sides making a number basic errors. What did stand out, however, was the Lions’ scramble defence which kept them in the hunt. This is a big handicap. I reckon Ulster should win this but may battle to put the Lions away by more than 20 points. Back the South Africans to remain within the cap here.

Saturday 16 October

Zebre 37/10 | Draw 25/1 | Glasgow 1/5 (14:00)

Zebre (+10.5) 17/20 | Glasgow (-10.5) 17/20

We kick things off on Saturday at the Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi where rock-bottom Zebre host Glasgow. The Italians were comprehensively beaten last week by Leinster at the RDS and may be in for another tough afternoon here. They failed to front up against the Irish province’s powerful pack and were bullied at the lineout where Leinster found plenty of go-forward from the maul.

Glasgow will be a different proposition to Leinster. The Scottish side will look to give the ball plenty of air down in Parma. Danny Wilson will demand better from his side in round 4 following their scrappy win against the Lions last time out. Whether or not Zebre will be able to weather the Glasgow storm is a different story. If the Scottish side can improve on last week’s performance, they should be able to clear this handicap with relative ease. Small play on the minus.

Benetton 59/100 | Draw 20/1 | Ospreys 29/20 (16:00)

Benetton (-3.5) 17/20 | Ospreys (+3.5) 17/20

Benetton were handily beaten last week at the Kingspan but will fancy their chances at home against the Ospreys in round four. Prior to last week’s defeat, they had claimed wins against both the Stormers and Edinburgh which underlines the sort of quality they boast within their ranks. They’re generally very good at set-piece time and will look to turn the screw on an Ospreys outfit who misfired badly last week.

The less said about the Ospreys’ performance against the Sharks the better. On Alun Wyn Jones’ return to the side, they were dismantled by the South African franchise, eventually going down 27-13. Nothing went right at the Liberty Stadium as the Welsh side’s handling completely abandoned them. It may be a very long 80 minutes at the Stadio Monigo if they fail to iron out the handling and set-piece issues from last week. I’m on Benetton to win on the board here at a shade under 6/10. I simply can’t get behind the Ospreys after last week’s shambolic display.

Edinburgh 72/100 | Draw 16/1 | Bulls 12/10 (18:15)

Edinburgh (-2.5) 17/20 | Bulls (+2.5) 17/20

We’re three rounds into the URC and Edinburgh have already won, lost and drawn so far. Their most recent result saw them battle away to a 20-20 stalemate against the Stormers. They’ll need to show significant improvement this time around if they are to bag a win against a resurgent Bulls outfit. Former Lions pivot Jaco van de Walt – who is also capped for Scotland – bagged the man of the match award last week, having claimed two try-assists as well as kicking both conversions and two penalties. His performance will be key to his side’s hopes against the Bulls. Much will also depend on how well the Scottish pack fronts up to the Bulls’ forwards who decimated Cardiff last weekend.

The Bulls appeared to be staring down the barrel against Cardiff last week after heading into the sheds 16-3 down. They would come out a different side in the second half. As their forwards began to dominate, so the Welsh side faded away as the Tshwane franchise sealed a 29-19 win. Replacement pivot, Chris Smith was excellent at after Johan Goosen appeared to go down with a serious knee injury. The obvious play here is to back the Bulls on the plus, and that’s exactly what I’ll be doing!

Leinster 1/33 | Draw 40/1 | Scarlets 10/1 (18:15)

Leinster (-20.5) 17/20 | Scarlets (+20.5) 17/20

Interestingly, Scarlets were the last not named Leinster side to win the Pro14 back in 2016/17. Since then, the Irish province have won all four championships and look well on their way to yet another deep run in the competition. Their 43-7 win against Zebre last week was always going to be a formality and it’s very difficult to look past a similar result this week.

Scarlets were woeful last week. They were comprehensively outplayed by a largely second-string Munster side and will need to do a bit of soul searching before their date with Leinster at the RDS. I’m all over Leinster clearing the (-20.5) handicap here at 17/20.

Cardiff 56/100 | Draw 18/1 | Sharks 31/20 (20:35)

Cardiff (-3.5) 17/20 | Sharks (+3.5) 17/20

Cardiff looked good against the Bulls in the first stanza last week before they blew a 16-3 first-half lead to go down 29-19. The ease with which the Bulls forwards started to dominate in the second 40 will be cause for concern. The loss of Josh Navidi with what looked like a serious shoulder injury won’t help.

I was really impressed with the Sharks last week as they breezed past the Ospreys at the Liberty Stadium. There are some obvious areas where the KZN franchise can improve, however. Boeta Chamberlain – who was simply superb – failed to find touch from penalties on two occasions. THe scrums also looked to be all over the place, especially in the second half. Their midfield also looked a lot better with Marius Louw and Jeremy Ward at 12 and 13, while Werner Kok looked a lot more at home on the wing. Last week’s performance would have done the Sharks a world of good. I reckon they can win this, but I’m happy to take them on the (+3.5) handicap at 17/20.

Munster 1/11 | Draw 33/1 | Connacht 6/1 (20:35)

Munster (-15.5) 17/20 | Connacht (+15.5) 17/20

Munster’s performance against the Dragons last week was extraordinary. A largely second-string side silenced Parc y Scarlets as the hosts buckled. Sadly for Munster, however, RG Snyman has re-ruptured his ACL and will spend another extended period of time out of the game. Expect the likes of Conor Murray, Peter O’Mahony, Keith Earls and Simon Zebo to be recalled to the run-on XV this weekend.

Connacht – perhaps somewhat surprisingly – slumped to a 35-22 home defeat at the hands of the Dragons. It was a strange old result, especially if you consider how the Irish province dismantled the Bulls in round 2. With Munster likely to field a far stronger team this week, I reckon they’ll clear the (-15.5) handicap. Small play here.

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