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PREVIEW: 2023/24 URC – Round 14

The URC is back with the Hollywoodbets Sharks in Glasgow and the rest of the SA contingent hosting games in the 14th round of action.

Ox Nche of the Hollywoodbets Sharks

The URC is back with the Hollywoodbets Sharks in Glasgow and the rest of the SA contingent hosting games in the 14th round of action.

Two women looking excitedly at cellphone

Friday 19 April

Ulster 29/100 | Draw 25/1 | Cardiff 11/4 (20:35)

Ulster (-9.5) 17/20 | Cardiff (+9.5) 17/20

After their fine Champions Cup round of 16 win at Montpellier, Ulster were comprehensively beaten in the quarter-finals in Clermont and will feel they have much to prove ahead of this one at the Kingspan. Sitting precariously in eighth, they still have plenty of work to do to ensure safe passage to the play-offs.

Cardiff are 12th, 10 points off their opponents this week. Whether their two-week break from games has left them rusty or re-focused remains to be seen, but either way the hosts have more to play for this season and should take it at home.

Verdict: Ulster (-9.5) 17/20

The Ulstermen won’t need any added motivation on Friday evening given their standing on the log. Back them to clear the handicap in front of their own fans. 

Glasgow 1/33 | Draw 40/1 | Hollywoodbets Sharks 10/1 (20:35)

Glasgow (-20.5) 17/20 | Hollywoodbets Sharks (+20.5) 17/20

Glasgow’s European campaign may have come to an end in their Champions Cup round of 16 tie at Harlequins, but there’s still plenty to play for yet this season. Occupying second on the URC ladder, they will take another big step towards a home play-off berth with a win on Friday, although this Sharks side are no longer easy beats.

The Durbanites have made huge progress in their last four outings, winning each game and building proper momentum ahead of their Challenge Cup semi-final showdown against Clermont. This clash at the Scotstoun is another huge test for John. Plumtree’s men, and while they are likely to continue to show improvement in certain areas, it’s unlikely it will be enough to get over the line, especially with many of their big guys not in the squad. 

Verdict: Sharks (+20.5) 17/20

I’m inclined to lean toward the Sharks on a pretty sizable plus handicap here. 

Saturday 20 April

Benetton 1/9 | Draw 28/1 | Dragons 58/10 (15:00)

Benetton (-14.5) 17/20 | Dragons (+14.5) 17/20

Benetton made amends for their mid-season wobble by claiming two outstanding results in their Challenge Cup knockout matches to set up a last-four encounter in Gloucester. They’re sixth in the URC with much still to do to cement a coveted play-off berth, but their confidence should see them beat Dragons comfortably at home.

Dragons are 15th, level on points with bottom-placed Zebre. There is little to suggest they can stand up to the high-flying Italian outfit at the Stadio Communale this weekend.

Verdict: Benetton (-14.5) 17/20

The Italians should have little trouble clearing this handicap. 

Lions 68/100 | Draw 25/1 | Leinster 12/10 (15:00)

Lions (-6.5) 17/20 | Leinster (+6.5) 17/20 *forecast handicap

The Lions were beaten by Benetton in the Challenge Cup round of 16 but remain well-placed to fight for a spot in the URC post-season. The Joburgers are 11th, just a solitary point off eighth, and may just spring a surprise on a potentially understrength Leinster outfit at altitude.

The Irish club has qualified for yet another Champions Cup semi-final after seeing off bitter rivals La Rochelle last week. With many of Leo Cullen’s A-listers sure to be rested for their tour of the Republic over the next fortnight, the log leaders could fall prey to an ambush.

Verdict: Lions 68/100

I expect this second-strong Leinster side to fall at altitude against a hungry Lions outfit.

Bulls 19/100 | Draw 25/1 | Munster 4/1 (17:05)

Bulls (-11.5) 17/20 | Munster (+11.5) 17/20

Having rested their big names for their Champions Cup rout at Northampton, Jake White’s side are likely to be well up for this one against the defending champs. The altitude factor will also work to their advantage as the third-placed Bulls look to keep up the pace at the summit of the standings.

It’s testament to the quality at Graham Rowntree’s disposal that Munster have blown hot and cold this season and yet still remain in contention for a home quarter-final. Just two points off their opponents this week in fourth, the Red Army will give it horns but should just fall short.

Verdict: Munster (+11.5) 17/20

The Bulls should win this but expect Munster to make a fist of things. 

Stormers 1/25 | Draw 40/1 | Ospreys 9/1 (19:15)

Stormers (-19.5) 17/20 | Ospreys (+17.5) 17/20

The Stormers’ European dream is over for another year, but they should have no trouble seeing off Ospreys in the Cape to take a step closer towards top four URC confirmation. John Dobson’s men are fifth and will be aiming for a full house of points this weekend.

Ospreys are well-placed in seventh and will be difficult opposition but will find it difficult to produce an 80-minute performance capable of besting the Stormers.

Verdict: Stormers (-19.5) 17/20

Buoyed on by home support, I reckon the Stormers will blow the Ospreys out of the water. 

Edinburgh 1/20 | Draw 40/1 | Scarlets 17/2 (20:35)

Edinburgh (-18.5) 17/20 | Scarlets (+18.5) 17/20

Edinburgh are ninth, a point off the top eight and will be eyeing five log points against strugglers Scarlets (14th) to keep up the pressure on the top eight. The hosts will be hurting after losing out to the Sharks in Durban and that could spell bad news for the men from Llanelli.

Verdict: Edinburgh (-18.5) 17/20

Scarlets have been way off the pace this season and should take a clobbering from a determined Edinburgh outfit. 

Connacht 1/20 | Draw 40/1 | Zebre 17/2 (20:35)

Connacht (-18.5) 17/20 | Zebre (+18.5) 17/20

Connacht in Galway are a difficult proposition for even the competition’s very best, and Zebre won’t have the goods to cause an upset on Saturday.

Verdict: Connacht (-18.5) 17/20

Connacht on the minus is one of my bankers of the weekend. 

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