Pressure mounts on SA sides in the URC

Pressure mounts on SA sides in the URC

The South African franchises will be under immense pressure to bounce back strongly from disappointing results in the Vodacom United Rugby Championship last week – apart from the Emirates Lions – as the competition reaches the fourth-last pool round and the scramble for quarter-final spots reaches boiling point.


Only nine points separate the third-placed Munster and 11th placed Emirates Lions, one of four teams currently tied on 39 points along with Edinburgh, Connacht and Ulster.


Fortunately for the Vodacom Bulls and Emirates Lions, all their remaining matches are in South Africa, which will give them a mental boost as they stake their playoff claims.


However, the sixth-placed DHL Stormers will have their work cut out to finish in the top eight, as they still have a tour lined up to Wales and Ireland, while they are currently tied on 40 points with the seventh-placed Ospreys – only one above the chasing pack on 39 points.


The Hollywoodbets Sharks – who will be playing purely for pride after having their quarter-final hopes dashed – will again lead the charge for the domestic franchises when they face the Scarlets in Llanelli on Friday, while Saturday will be jam-packed for SA’s rugby faithful as the Vodacom Bulls host Ospreys in Pretoria, the Emirates welcome defending champions Munster to Johannesburg, and the DHL Stormers take on log-leaders Leinster in Cape Town.


The KwaZulu-Natalians will target a victory against Scarlets – who trail them by two points on the table – to bounce back from their disappointing defeat against Glasgow, and they will draw inspiration from their attacking display, which saw them apply good pressure on the hosts, although a big talking point in the camp this week will be to improve their finishing as that cost them dearly last week.


Both teams have registered only three victories this season, but the Hollywoodbets Sharks boast a better attack and defence, and they will be mindful of the fact that if they replicate the pressure they created on attack last week and round off their chances, it could count in their favour as the Scarlets defence has been their weakness this season with 479 points conceded in their 14 outings to date.


The Durbanites will also give everything to finish their tour on a high and build good momentum before their EPCR Challenge Cup semi-final next weekend, followed by three home games after this round.


The Vodacom Bulls will be wary of Ospreys when they take the field at Loftus Versfeld, especially after the Welsh outfit surprised the DHL Stormers with a 27-21 victory in Cape Town last week, but they will be hellbent to make up for their first home defeat of the season last week, which saw them drop to fourth place on the table – eight points behind Leinster, seven behind Glasgow, and two behind Munster.


However, with Munster facing the Emirates Lions and Leinster taking on the DHL Stormers in South Africa, the Vodacom Bulls will be hoping that their domestic counterparts do them a favour as they continue to hunt a spot in the top two for a home quarter-final and possibly a home semi-final.


The match could prove to be a humdinger though, as the Pretoria outfit have only won one more match than Ospreys, and although they boast a superior attack with 456 points scored to Ospreys’ 317, the visitors’ defence has been more effective conceding 41 points fewer.


The Emirates Lions, meanwhile, will be determined to build on their morale-boosting 44-12 victory against Leinster when they take on Munster at Emirates Airline Park, and will enter the match well aware of the importance of a victory to possibly power their way back into the top eight.


The Gautengers will, however, be wary of the Irish giants, who are currently in third place on the log after registering nine wins in their 14 matches – the last of which was a valuable bonus-point win against the Vodacom Bulls in Pretoria last weekend – and who have their sights firmly set on possibly hopping into the top two in the next few weeks.


Home ground advantage aside, the Johannesburgers will draw encouragement from the fact that they have scored 66 more points than the visitors to date, but they will be mindful of the fact that Munster are the second-best defensive team in the competition, which should set the scene for a thrilling clash.


The DHL Stormers, in turn, will look to inflict further damage on Leinster following their thumping against the Emirates Lions last weekend as they look to remain in the top eight and in the longer term to possibly leap into the top four in the closing rounds.


The Capetonians will face a desperate Leinster outfit, who now hold only a narrow one-point lead at the top of the standings, but who have the bragging rights as the second-best attacking team in the competition.


However, the DHL Stormers are not far off from Leinster on defence, while they will also draw inspiration from the fact that they played to a 22-22 in the last outing between the sides in Ireland last season, meaning it could prove to be spectacle.


Match information:


Scarlets v Hollywoodbets Sharks

Date: Friday, 26 April

Venue: Parc Y Scarlets, Llanelli

Referee: Mike Adamson

SA Time: 20h35


Vodacom Bulls v Ospreys

Date: Saturday, 27 April

Venue: Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria

Referee: Chris Busby

SA Time: 15h00


Emirates Lions v Munster

Date: Saturday, 27 April

Venue: Emirates Airline Park, Johannesburg

Referee: Craig Evans

SA Time: 17h00


DHL Stormers v Leinster

Date: Saturday, 27 April

Venue: DHL Stadium, Cape Town

Referee: Andrea Piardi

SA Time: 19h05

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