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PREVIEW: URC resumes with SA teams up north

With the Champions and Challenge Cups on hold, the URC returns this weekend with the Saffa sides in action on the road.

Image Copyright - Steve Haag Sports - Thinus Maritz

With the Champions and Challenge Cups on hold, the URC returns this weekend with the Saffa sides in action on the road.

Two women looking excitedly at cellphone

Friday 27 January

Scarlets 2/1 | Draw 20/1 | Bulls 43/100

Scarlets (+5.5) 17/20 | Bulls (-5.5) 17/20

Scarlets have experienced a mini-renaissance of late, winning six of their last seven in all competitions to arrest their dreadful early season form and finish top of the pile in Pool B of the Challenge Cup. Still, they’re second from bottom in the URC with plenty of ground to make up in the Welsh Shield, and though leaders Cardiff may be too far off, they’ll still be eyeing as many wins as possible to improve on their placing.

Friday’s clash will be the Bulls’ sixth away fixture from their last seven outings, having copped a 31-7 loss to Lyon at the Stade Gerland in the Champions Cup a week ago. Jake White’s boys may have fallen off the pace of late, but they’re still well-positioned in the URC, currently third, but under big pressure given the form of the chasing pack.

This will be a tight one in Llanelli, but the Bulls’ power play should see them narrowly clear the handicap.

Ulster 2/7 | Draw 20/1 | Stormers 29/10

Ulster (-8.5) 17/20 | Stormers (+8.5) 17/20

After their fast start, Ulster now find themselves in big trouble with just two wins from their last eight in all comps. They’ve dropped to fourth in the URC and finished eighth in Pool B of the Champions Cup to set up a round-of-16 date with Leinster, and things don’t get any easier with the defending champs paying the Kingspan a visit here. They’ll take confidence from their display in their 22-11 win over Sale a week ago but the Capetonians pose a different threat.

The Stormers continue to tick the boxes this campaign, finishing third in Pool B of the Champions Cup and sitting second in the URC. They’ll be well in the fight for both trophies come the business end of the season but this week come up against a desperate Ulster outfit that could have their number.

The hosts really want this one and should edge it as they seek to get their season back on track. Stormers on the plus.

Saturday 28 January

Benetton 9/4 | Draw 20/1 | Munster 37/100

Benetton (+6.5) 17/20 | Munster (-6.5) 17/20

Valiant Benetton continue to win over fans with their gallant displays this season and currently on a five-game winning run that has elevated them to second spot in Pool B of the Challenge Cup and sixth in the URC. Marco Bortolami’s charges are well within the fight for a playoff spot and having already claimed the scalp of Ulster in Belfast at the beginning of the month, will fancy their chances against Munster here.

The Red Army though are another side that have made some big improvements over the past few games. After initially struggling under new coach Johann van Graan, they’ve managed to improve on their win column and have risen to seventh on the overall URC standings. With three straight home games coming after this one, a victory here would provide the men from Limerick with some real momentum as the season starts to wind down.

Give their lofty ambitions and high expectations, Munster should take this but by no more than six. I’m on the Italians to remain within the ‘cap here. 

Dragons 18/20 | Draw 20/1 | Glasgow Warriors 49/100

Dragons (+4.5) 18/10 | Glasgow (-4.5) 17/20

Dragons are 14th on the standings after last winning in the tournament at the end of October against bottom-placed Zebre. Their three wins is already one better than they amassed in the entirety of last season, but they’ll have their sights set on finishing higher than 15th this time round. And having collected as many points (17) as Scarlets, the team currently in that position on the standings, they can’t afford any setbacks.

Warriors did well to finish second in Pool A of the Challenge Cup to set up a round-of-16 encounter with their opponents this week. They’re placed fifth on the URC table and despite the close-knit nature of those vying for a playoff berth, Franco Smith’s charges look set to be right in the fight again come the competition’s business end.

The Scottish club has been rocked by the domestic abuse allegation levelled at winger Rufus McLean, with the 22-year-old’s contract having been terminated this week.

That bad press is sure to have a negative impact on the team, and may give the hosts the gap they need to claim a win of five or more.

Leinster 1/16 | Draw 35/1 | Cardiff 8/1

Leinster (-17.5) 17/20 | Cardiff (+17.5) 17/20

The Leinster juggernaut continues to steamroll all in its path, having maintained their 100% win rate this season thanks to recent Champions Cup victories over Gloucester and Ospreys. It’s difficult to see them slipping up against a good but limited Cardiff outfit at home here.

Dai Young’s men head into this one off the back of a Challenge Cup defeat to Brive but did manage a very respectable third-place finish in Pool B to set up a round-of-16 clash with Sale. They’re 10th in the URC and lead the way in the Welsh Shield but won’t cut the mustard against Leinster in Dublin.

Cardiff on the plus.

Edinburgh 57/100 | Draw 20/1 | Sharks 31/20

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

Neil Powell’s side have lost their last three straight away matches in the URC but will be eager to arrest that poor run and continue their playoff push here. They currently occupy ninth overall, one point and one place behind their opponents this week but boast two games in hand.

Edinburgh are on a three-match winning run and last week dispatched of Saracens at the DAM Health; underlining their undeniable quality. They’ll definitely keep challenging for a quarterfinal berth throughout the remainder of the campaign but could find the going tough this weekend.

The Sharks’ Bok-laden forward pack will power them to another big win here. Get on them to win on the board here at 31/20.

Connacht 24/100 | Draw 22/1 | Lions 33/10

Connacht (-9.5) 17/20 | Lions (+9.5) 17/20

Although Connacht are 11th after another inconsistent campaign, they’re still just five points off the playoff berths. A big push from here on out could see the men from Galway sneak into the top eight come season’s end, but they’ll need to win regularly and rely on other results to go their way.

The Lions find themselves 12th having last won in the tournament at the beginning of December. Like Connacht, the Pride are at risk of missing out on the quarterfinals yet again.

Lions on the plus.

Sunday 29 January

Zebre 29/10 | Draw 22/1 | Ospreys 27/100

Zebre (+8.5) 17/20 | Ospreys (-8.5) 17/20

Zebre have still not won a game this season and recently became the only URC side not to qualify for the next round of either the Champions or Challenge Cup in 2022-23. The Italian outfit are always better at home but won’t be good enough against a resurgent Ospreys team.

Toby Booth’s charges have initiated a major turnaround in their season since their December win in Montpellier and will be hellbent on clawing their way as high up the URC ladder as possible. They can still catch Welsh Shield leaders Cardiff, who are five points better off the Swansea boys, and will be buoyed after their victory over Tigers at Welford Road last week heading into this one.

Zebre on the plus.

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