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PREVIEW: URC returns as European sides touch down in SA

The URC returns this weekend following the Autumn Nations Series break with the South African sides looking to make home-ground advantage count. Darry Worthington previews.

Aphelele Fassi of the Sharks URC
Image Copyright - Steve Haag Sports

The URC returns this weekend following the Autumn Nations Series break with the South African sides looking to make home-ground advantage count. Darry Worthington previews.

Two women looking excitedly at cellphone

The South African sides will be hoping for a change in fortunes as they have returned home after difficult tours of Europe that saw them only amass four victories from the 12 games they played.

Friday 26 November

Connacht 44/100 | Draw 20/1 | Ospreys 39/20 (21:35)

Handicap
Connacht (-5.5) 17/20 | Ospreys (+5.5) 17/20

We kick things off over in Galway where Irish Province Connacht will play host to Welsh outfit, the Ospreys.

The visitors have enjoyed a fantastic start to their campaign winning four of their opening five fixtures with their only defeat being a surprise 13-27 loss to the Sharks. They were in great touch before the break as well, registering an 18-10 win over a red-hot Munster outfit.

Connacht have been far less consistent than their opponents and only have two wins from their five outings. Those two victories came at home and their latest one was mightily impressive as they beat domestic rivals Ulster 36-11. Connacht are a very strong side at home and I can’t see them losing this one. Get on at 44/100

Benetton 29/20 | Draw 20/1 | Glasgow Warriors 6/10 (15:00)

Handicap
Benetton (+3.5) 17/20 | Glasgow (-3.5) 17/20

Next up we have a tasty looking clash between Benetton and Glasgow. Both sides currently sit mid-table with the hosts in eighth spot having won two of their five fixtures while the visitors reside in sixth with three wins.

Benetton are yet to taste defeat on their own patch this term racking up home wins over the Stormers and Edinburgh. The Warriors have only registered one away win this term but that win did come in Italy where they beat Zebre 6-17. The Warriors look a decent prospect here. While this game should be tight, I can see the away side claiming the points. 6/10 looks decent value. 

Stormers 1/50| Draw 43/1 | Zebre 12/1 (15:00)

Handicap
Stormers (-23.5) 17/20 | Zebre (+23.5) 17/20

The first URC game to be played on South African shores sees the Stormers play host to Italian minnows Zerbre.

The men from the Cape really struggled during their first jaunt to Europe only managing one win and a draw from their five outings. Those positive results came during the back end of the tour, which will encourage John Dobson.

Zebre have had a dire start to the campaign and are yet to win a game. They are currently rooted to the foot of the URC table and carry a -109 pints differential into this fixture. With the hosts set to field a side featuring the likes of Damian Willemse, Marvin Orie and Salmaan Moerat, I can only see one result here; a big win for the hosts. Get on the (-23.5) handicap here. 

Sharks 24/100 | Draw 22/1 | Scarlets 33/10 (17:30)

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

The Sharks will be looking to kick start their campaign when they return to their own hunting grounds to take on the Scarlets.

Like all of the South African franchises, the KZN side struggled during their European jaunt and were only able to register one win from their four fixtures with their victory coming over the Scarlets fellow Welshmen, the Ospreys. 

It’s worth mentioning that the Sharks were the South African side most affected by Springbok call ups so it’s not unreasonable to think that there will be a significant improvement as the likes of Sbu Nkosi, Lukhanyo Am, Siya Kolisi, Makazole Mapimpi, Ox Nche, Bongi Mbonambi, Aphelele Fassi are integrated back into the side. 

The visitors have also endured a tough start to the campaign and have only won two of their five fixtures, with the wins coming against the Lions and Benetton. I reckon we’ll see the Sharks flourish on their home patch and I’m expecting them to run up a big score here. Get on the (-9.5) handicap at 17/20,

Dragons 5/4 | Draw 20/1 | Edinburgh 69/100 (19:15)

Handicap
Dragons (+2.5) 17/20 | Edinburgh (-2.5) 17/20

The Dragons will play host to Edinburgh this Saturday in a fixture the hosts really need to win if they are to turn around their season.

The visitors are currently flying high on the URC log and reside in fourth with three wins and a draw from their opening five games.

The hosts, on the other hand, are struggling at the moment and sit in 11th spot with just one win from their first five. They are yet to win a game on home soil this term with their best result being a 6-7 loss to Irish giants, Leinster. I simply can’t see the Dragons woeful home form ending against a solid Edinburgh outfit. Back the Scots to win on the board at a shade under 7/10.

Bulls 29/100 | Draw 22/1 | Munster 28/10 (19:45)

Handicap
Bulls (-9.5) 17/20 | Munster (+9.5) 17/20

We’ve got the pick of this weekend’s action next up with the Bulls welcoming a star-studded Munster outfit to fortress Loftus.

The Bull’s superiority on the South African domestic scene did not translate to success in Europe as they could only conjure up one win from their five fixtures. That victory came over a decent Cardiff Blues side, however.

Munster, on the other hand, have enjoyed a solid start to their campaign winning four of their five fixtures with their only defeat being a surprise 18-10 away loss to the Scarlets. Several of their internationals will be unavailable for selection as they’ve been afforded a week’s break.  I’m expecting the Bulls to fire on home soil while Munster are likely to struggle with the altitude. I’m on the minus here. 

Leinster 1/9 | Draw 20/1 |  Ulster 58/10 (22:00)

Handicap
Leinster (-14.5) 17/20 | Ulster (+14.5) 9/10

We’ve got another heavyweight clash up next with an Irish derby between tournament leaders Leinster and second-placed Ulster.

The hosts have enjoyed a flawless start to their campaign and are five from five as we head into round 6. While they are yet to lose a game, there are signs that Leinster aren’t the all-conquering beast they were last year with their scrappy 6-7 win over a poor Dragons side illustrating that there are flaws in their game.

Ulster have also been rock solid this term losing just one of their four games. That defeat came at the hands of local rivals Connacht who beat them 36-11. These Irish derbies tend to favour the home side, however, I’m not sure Leinster will clear such a hefty cap. Small play on the Ulster (+14.5) at 17/20 here.

Sunday 28 November

Lions 43/100 | Draw 20/1 | Cardiff Blues 2/1

Handicap
Lions (-5.5) 17/20 | Cardiff (+5.5) 17/20

The round will come to a close in Johannesburg where the Lions will play host to the Cardiff Blues.

Like all of the South African sides, the Lions struggled on tour winning just one of their four fixtures, with the victory coming against Italian minnows Zebre. They did play some nice rugby at times and there were mitigating circumstances as they were missing a number of players due to injury. They’ll be able to field an almost full-strength side this weekend as they have a number of players back in contention.

Cardiff have enjoyed a more positive start to the campaign winning three of their five fixtures. They’ve claimed some big scalps as well beating the Dragons, Sharks and Connacht. I’m expecting the Lions to round out a full sweep for the South African sides this weekend.

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