It wasn’t the best of starts on the tipping front with only three of the opening round suggestions landing. We live and learn, however, and this week offers the opportunity for an immediate response with another full URC fixtures list just on the horizon.
There are some highly intriguing fixtures here with the two games being played in South Africa the ones to catch the eye with the reigning champions, the Stormers, getting their title defence underway against Irish outfit Connacht, while last year’s beaten finalists, the Bulls, will be looking to build on their impressive Round 1 victory over domestic foes the Lions when they welcome Edinburgh to Loftus.
Friday 23 September
Zebre 6/1 | Draw 33/1 | Sharks 1/10
Zebre will be looking to impress again this week when they take on a Sharks side that are embarking on a rather arduous tour of Europe which will feature games against regional powerhouses Leinster, Ulster and Glasgow.
The hosts went into their opener as heavy underdogs with the bookies giving them a 27 point head start on Leinster. Plus they would have been exceedingly nervous after 20-odd minutes as Leinster had cruised into a 21-0 lead.
Zebre would hit back, however, scoring two tries before half-time. They then started the second-half like a house on fire grabbing two tries before the 50-minute mark to pull within six points of their opponents. The two sides would go on to trade tries during the final salvoes of the game with Leinster holding out for a narrow three point win.
This will be the Sharks’ first outing of the season as they enjoyed a bye in the opening round. The men from Durban had a rather disappointing season last year finishing 5th. They have hit the transfer market hard during the off-season bringing in Carlu Sadie, Vincent Tshituka and Eben Etzebeth – who will play a limited amount of games due to his Springbok commitments – to their forward pack, while Fred Zeilinga and Lionel Cronje have bolstered their fly-half stocks and Rohan Janse van Rensburg has come in to strengthen their midfield.
While I can see the Sharks bagging a win, I don’t reckon it will be by much.
Leinster n/a | Draw 58/1 | Benetton 14/1
Leinster will be looking for an improved showing when they take on a Benetton side who will be on a massive high having gotten their campaign off to a flying start with an opening round win.
The hosts huffed and puffed their way to a three-point victory over minnows Zebre. In fairness, they fielded a far from full-strength side and Zebre looked vastly improved from the outfit that was hammered by all and sundry last term.
While Leinster really struggled, Treviso put in a solid showing as they ran out 33-11 victors over Glasgow. So an ideal start for the Italian side who look like they may well be a dark horse for a play-off berth this season.
Leinster are back on home soil and I expect a big response from Ireland’s most successful province.
Glasgow Warriors 11/20 | Draw 22/1 | Cardiff Rugby 14/10
Glasgow will be looking to bounce back from their horror showing in Round 1 when they take on a Cardiff side that impressed last week.
Taking nothing away from Benetton, who were great value last weekend, that performance from Glasgow was exceedingly poor. They had no real cohesion on attack and coughed up numerous point-scoring opportunities while the less said about their defensive game the better.
Unlike their opponents for Saturday, Cardiff got their campaign off to a sold start as they beat a much-fancied Munster side 20-13. The star of the show for Cardiff was young inside centre, Max Llewllyn, who carved up the Munster midfield on numerous occasions in the first half.
I rather fancy Cardiff’s chances here. They have a really well-balanced side while Glasgow look rather out of sorts.
Saturday 24 September
Scarlets 15/10 | Draw 20/1 | Ulster 5/10
Over to Wales for our next fixture which will see the Scarlets take on Ulster. The hosts got their campaign underway with a draw in their derby clash against the Ospreys. They were pretty lucky to have come away from the game with anything at all as they were 3-13 down 20 minutes into the first-half. A far better showing in the second-half would come to nothing, however, as a late try from the Ospreys meant the Scarlets had to settle for a draw.
Ulster had a far better start to their campaign as they ran riot in their local derby beating Connacht 36-10. It was a massive sign of intent from this new-look Ulster side who will be looking to keep the good times rolling this Saturday.
I fancy the away side here. They were great last weekend and I can see them making it two wins from two starts.
Bulls 23/100 | Draw 25/1 | Edinburgh 34/10
We head to South Africa for our next installment which sees the Bulls play host to Scottish outfit Edinburgh.
The hosts got their campaign off to a good old start as they made short work of the Lions in the Jukskei derby, running out 15-31 victors in Johannesburg. While they were missing a few of their big names, Jake White’s men still look as solid as ever.
Like the Bulls, Edinburgh impressed on their first outing in hammering the Dragons 44-6. While they were great on attack, the most impressive part of Edinburgh’s display was their water-tight defensive effort that saw the Dragons fail to cross the whitewash.
The Bulls are an extremely tough nut to crack at Loftus and I reckon the altitude will catch Edinburgh out.
Stormers 21/100 | Draw 25/1 | Connacht 7/2
The reigning champions get their title defence underway against Irish opposition with Connacht making the trip to the Mother City this Saturday.
The hosts will be without a handful of their stars this weekend with the likes of Damien Willemse away with the Springboks. They still have some seriously talented players to throw onto the field on Saturday with Mannie Libbok one man to keep an eye on.
Connacht head to Cape Town off a rather demoralizing defeat as they went down 36-10 to Ulster in their opener. They were thoroughly outclassed by their opponents and will need to up their game ten-fold if they are to grab a win here.
The Stormers are missing some key players for this one and while I think they will still bag the win, I reckon it will be by a very narrow margin.
Ospreys 26/100 | Draw 25/1 | Lions 3/1
The penultimate game of the weekend will see the Lions open up their tour of Europe at the Liberty Stadium.
The Lion’s hosts, the Ospreys gave a decent account of themselves last week but will be bitterly disappointed having had to settle for a 23-23 draw when they were in a commanding position against the Scarlets.
Joburg’s Pride had a worse time of it in the opening round as they went down 15-31 to the Bulls. They were well in the game until the final quarter where a flurry of tries from the Bulls saw the scoreline blowout.
While the Lions will get a couple of players back this week, I still can’t see them being good enough to get the win over Ospreys here.
Dragons 39/10 | Draw 28/1 | Munster 19/100
Things come to a close at Rodney Parade where Munster will be looking to bounce back from a somewhat surprising defeat to Cardiff when they take on a Dragons side that were hammered by Edinburgh last weekend.
The hosts were pretty dire last week with their attack as blunt as a spoon and their defence as porous as a sponge. They have a mountain of work to do if they are to give Munster a run here.
While Munster were far from their vintage selves, they did show positive signs during their 20-13 defeat to Cardiff with their attack threatening to fire on a number of occasions.
A week or competitive rugby will have done Munster a world of good and I can see them having little trouble taking a very weak Dragons outfit to task.
🗣"We need to put up a much better showing & we need to make people around this region proud of what we're representing. We have our first opportunity this weekend to do that at Rodney Parade."— Dragons RFC (@dragonsrugby) September 22, 2022
🐉 Head Coach Dai Flanagan looking for a reaction 🆚 @Munsterrugby!#WeAreGwentRugby pic.twitter.com/eTqFHq5gUA