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PREVIEW: South African franchises in for another tough weekend in the URC?

After two weeks of URC action, the South African franchises are struggling with only one win in eight matches so far.

Thaakir Abrahams of the Sharks - URC
Image Copyright - Steve Haag Sports

After two weeks of URC action, the South African franchises are struggling with only one win in eight matches so far. Still, it wasn’t all doom and gloom last weekend as the Sharks and the Stormers played well- if not for the whole 80 minutes.

Two women looking excitedly at cellphone
Standings provided by SofaScore LiveScore

This weekend’s action is headlined by a clash at Rodney Parade which sees Scarlets – who came within a whisker of getting one over Leinster last week – face off against Munster. Elsewhere, the Sharks travel to Swansea to face the Ospreys, Cardiff host the Bulls and the Stormers take on Edinburgh.

Friday 8 October

Ospreys 23/100 | Draw 22/1 | Sharks 34/10

Handicap
Ospreys (-9.5) 17/20 | Sharks (+9.5) 17/20

We kick things off this week over in Swansea where the Ospreys host the Sharks at the Liberty Stadium. Gareth Anscombe was the hero for the Ospreys, putting in an assured display on only his second competitive appearance after a two-year injury lay-off against Cardiff last week. The pivot would go on to claim all 18 of his side’s points from the kicking tee and kicked brilliantly out of hand. There will be some concerns on attack, however, as they rarely threatened the Cardiff line.

The Sharks were undone by a poor first half against Glasgow last week, heading into the sheds 28-10 down. They fronted up better in defence and showed some real attacking intent in the second stanza, eventually going down 35-24. Encouragingly, the KZN franchise also managed to cut down on the number of penalties conceded against Munster in round 1. They will also start this week with Marius Louw and Jeremy Ward as the midfield combination, with Werner Kok dropping to the bench. I still feel that the ex-Blitzbok is best utilised on the wing and not at centre. The Sharks aren’t a million miles away from stringing together an 80-minute performance and look good value to remain within the 9.5-point handicap this time around.

Ulster 1/8 | Draw 28/1 | Benetton 56/10

Handicap
Ulster (-13.5) 9/10 | Benetton (+13.5) 9/10

Ulster had an easy time of things last week, cruising to a 36-3 victory over a Zebre side who look likely to be the whipping boys this season. The Irish province face Italian opposition for the second week in a row this weekend when they host Benetton. The Ulstermen’s will likely look to use their powerful forward pack to wear down their opposition this week. The same strategy paid dividends last weekend, allowing them to run in six unanswered tries.

Benetton were involved in the game of the week last time out, with Leonardo Marin kicking an 84th-minute drop goal to secure his side a 28-27 victory over Edinburgh. The Italians are two from two this season and will head to the Kingspan in confident mood. Key to their chances will be how well they deal with Ulster’s powerful pack. If they can match the Irish province up front, their dangerous backs can make a real meal out of this fixture. I think that Ulster will get over the line here, but this handicap is a bit too big for me. Get on Benetton at (+13.5) at 17/20.

Saturday 9 October

Leinster N/A | Draw 46/1 | Zebre 15/1

Handicap
Leinster (-35.5) 17/20 | Zebre (+35.5) 17/20

We’re off to the RDS Arena next where Leinster will be seeking a marked improvement from the performance which saw them scrape to a 7-6 win against Scarlets last weekend. The less said about that scrappy affair the better, to be honest. Nonetheless, Leo Cullen will be thankful that his side were able to come away with the win in Wales last week after butchering so many scoring opportunities.

Zebre, meanwhile, come into this off the back of a heavy defeat at the hands of Ulster. They were unable to cross the whitewash in the 36-3 defeat and had their pack bullied by Ulstermen. Worryingly, the Italians have lost all 15 of their previous encounters against Leinster, a trend that is likely to continue this weekend. Expect a well-drilled Leinster side to improve on last week’s performance to clear the (-35.5) handicap – small play here.

Glasgow 1/10 | Draw 33/1 | Lions 6/1

Handicap
Glasgow (-14.5) 17/20 | Lions (+14.5) 17/20 

Glasgow – with the aid of a fine first-half performance – were able to put the Sharks away in round 2. Their performance in the second stanza, however, left much to be desired with the visitors coming back into the match. Last week’s win was their fifth in a row at the Scotstoun and they’ll be confident of making that six when the Lions come calling.

The Lions were brought back down to earth by Scarlets following their opening day win against Zebre. The Johannesburg franchise were actually still in the hunt in the second half but a 66th-minute yellow card for Rabz Maxwane while trailing 23-13 effectively put the game to bed. The Lions will also be without the services of Jordan Hendrikse who has been ruled out for three months with a fractured ankle injury – serious déjà vu for the Hendrikse family after Jaden’s ankle break against Argentina earlier this year. I reckon Glasgow should get the better of this Lions side. Another small play here, this time on the Glasgow minus.

Connacht 29/100 | Draw 22/1 | Dragons 28/10

Handicap
Connacht (-8.5) 17/20 | Dragons (+8.5) 17/20

Next stop is the Sportsground where Connacht host the Dragons. The Irish province put in a clinical display last weekend, thumping the Bulls 34-7. They profited from poor Bulls defending as they ran in five unanswered tries following Lizo Gqoboka’s opener for the South African franchise, with Tom Daly having a stormer at inside centre.

The Dragons were involved in an arm wrestle with Leinster last weekend at Rodney Parade. The Irish province would eventually run out 7-6 winners but not before squandering a number of try-scoring opportunities. It’s worth noting that the Welsh side haven’t won at the Sportsground since May 2004 in what was their first visit to the ground. I don’t think Connacht will be as charitable as their Irish counterparts were last week, and should clear the (-8.5) handicap. 

Edinburgh 2/9 | Draw 24/1 | Stormers 36/10

Handicap
Edinburgh (-8.5) 9/10 | Stormers (+8.5) 9/10  

Edinburgh had their hearts broken last week as Leonardo Marin slotted a drop goal after the hooter to hand Benetton a 28-27 win. The Scots have now won just one of their last six competitive fixtures – a 26-22 victory over Scarlets in round 1. Mike Blair’s side will be confident coming into this one but will need their backs to front up against a powerful Stormers midfield.

The Stormers were brilliant in the first half last weekend against Munster, racing into a 15-0 lead before Munster’s forwards took control of the game and ground the life out of the South African side. They would eventually go down 34-18, but there were signs that they aren’t too far off. Manie Libbok looks the real deal at pivot while Dan du Plessis and Ruhan Nel carried with power and purpose in the midfield. I’m tempted to have a sneaky go on the Stormers to win on the board here. For those of you not as brave, get on the (+8.5) handicap at 17/20.

Cardiff 31/100 | Draw 22/1 | Bulls 26/10

Handicap 
Cardiff (-8.5) 17/20 | Bulls (+8.5) 17/20

Cardiff will into this one knowing that they probably should have snuck over the line against the Ospreys last weekend but were ultimately undone by a perfect Gareth Anscombe kicking performance. They’re undefeated in four competitive games at Cardiff Arms Park and will look to pile more misery on Jake White’s Bulls come Saturday. 

The Bulls were comprehensively outplayed in Galway last time out as they were hammered by Connacht. It’s strange to think that this is the same side that put in such a defensively sound display against the Sharks in the Currie Cup final. They were all over the show for most of Connacht’s tries and will need to shore up this weekend. Jake White will demand better. If the Bulls can get their act together, they’ll be more than capable of beating this Cardiff side. Whether or not they’ll do so remains to be seen. Take them to remain within the (+8.5) point handicap.

Sunday 10 October

Scarlets 12/10 | Draw 21/1 | Munster 72/100

Handicap
Scarlets (+2.5) 17/20 | Munster (-2.5) 17/20

We round off the weekend’s action down at Parc y Scarlets in Llanelli where Scarlets play host to Munster. The Welsh side were good value for their 36-13 victory over the Lions last week. They capitalised well on a late yellow card dished out to Lions winger Rabz Maxwane to put the game to bed. They face a far sterner test this week in the form of Munster.

Munster had an absolute stinker of a first half last time out against the Stormers before powering back into the game in the second stanza. Their forward-oriented game proved too much for the Cape Town franchise last time out as they brutally wiped out a 15-0 deficit to win 34-18. It was a warning shot that the rest of the competition will need to take seriously, especially with RG Snyman coming back to full fitness. Munster to win on the board here is the obvious play. They represent amazing value at 72/100.

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