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BKT URC round 15 preview: Ospreys look to maintain perfect record against South African teams in Pretoria

26 Apr 2024 12 minute read
The Osprey’s celebrating last weeks victory over the Stormers

Simon Thomas

Vodacom Bulls v Ospreys, Saturday 2pm

The Ospreys will be looking to maintain their perfect record against South African opposition when they take the field at Pretoria’s Loftus Versfeld.

So far this season, they have beaten the Emirates Lions in both the URC and EPCR Challenge Cup, while there have also been league wins against the Hollywoodbets Sharks and, just last weekend, the DHL Stormers.

That 27-21 bonus point victory over the Stormers in Cape Town sent shockwaves through the competition and gave a huge boost to the Welsh team’s play-off hopes.

Now they have headed up to altitude on the High Veldt to take on the fourth-placed Bulls.

Coach Toby Booth said: “We are sitting in a situation where we have had South African opposition four times this season and won all four.

“If someone had told you that at the start, you would take that, wouldn’t you?

“We now have an opportunity this weekend – in a very difficult arena against very difficult opposition – to win five from five.

“When you come to this country, you know it will be really tough.

“Everyone knows that South African rugby is what it is. Certainly when you are over here, you are reminded of that everywhere you turn, with the angle of questioning you get from local press and how it’s reported.

“It’s a way of life over here and, whatever happens this weekend, we have certainly got some respect and Welsh rugby has got some respect in this part of the world because of the actions of the team and the team have done brilliantly.”


Looking at the challenge presented by Jake White’s Bulls, Booth said: “They are a high class team with high class coaching.

“You can’t underestimate how difficult this is going to be.

“We are up against an extremely good team playing at home with some extra incentive because of how their recent results have gone,

“There will be the usual altitude sign as you walk out of the tunnel. But you play the game to challenge yourself and we are really looking forward to it.

“For us, it’s all about energy, clarity and effort.

“We know what we are and we are proud of what we are. We are a team that won’t go away.

“We have created a bit of a narrative that it can be done and we will look to try and continue.

“We are in the hunt for the play-offs and we just need to make sure we are in with a chance come the last week.”

Booth has freshened up his team, with internationals Justin Tipuric and Gareth Thomas coming into the pack, along with much talked about teenager Morgan Morse, while Wales hooker Dewi Lake makes his comeback on the bench after three months out with hamstring damage.

For the Bulls, Chris Smith takes over at fly-half from the suspended Johan Goosen, who was sent off in last weekend’s home defeat to Munster, while Canan Moodie moves back to the wing from the centre.

Scarlets v Hollywoodbets Sharks, Friday 7.35pm

It will be a real trip down memory lane for Sharks boss John Plumtree as he heads for west Wales.

The New Zealander spent some five years as coach of Swansea RFC through until late 2001, winning two league titles and the Welsh Cup.

Trips to Llanelli to take on local rivals the Scarlets were always big occasions back then. Now, more than 20 years on, he heads back to the town for another special showdown, with his Swansea-born son Taine in the opposing team.

“I think he has already fired a couple of shots in the press,” said John.

“He said if he beats the Sharks he will get to sit at the head of the table back with the family.

“I have already told him that he knows his place at the table and it will never be at the head, not while I’m alive!

“I think he also said he was better than me as a player which I had to giggle about because he never saw me play.

“I have taught him a lot, so maybe the master has taught the student to be better, which is great!”

On a serious note, John added: “I haven’t been in this situation before as a father with a son on the opposition side.

“As long as he’s safe at the end of it and not injured, that’s the main thing. He’s just come back after a long injury,”


Looking back on his coaching stint in Wales with Swansea, John said: “I loved it. It was a great first up job for me and I learned heaps.

“I loved those days. It was so tribal, against Llanelli, Neath, Bridgend. It was a good time to coach there. Welsh rugby was really strong. The Wales team was strong too. Graham Henry was there for a period when I was there. It was good times. I really enjoyed it.

“I was a first up coach and pretty green. I was blessed to have so many great Welsh internationals in that team, people like Scott Gibbs, Colin Charvis, Mark Taylor, Garin Jenkins, Arwel Thomas. I was pretty lucky to be able to coach a team with that calibre of player.

“I made a lot of friends there and two of my sons were born there at Singleton Hospital.”

Wales’ Taine Plumtree and England’s Henry Slade and Jack van Poortvliet battle for the ball. Ben Whitley/PA Wire.

One of those is Welsh international Taine, who packs down on the blindside flank for the Scarlets having just returned after five months out following shoulder surgery.

“It will be a nice family affair with dad upstairs and me down on the pitch,” said the 24-year-old.

“It is going to be quite a cool occasion for us.”

Adding his thoughts, Scarlets coach Dwayne Peel said: “I am sure it will be a great day for the family.

“You’ve got two Kiwis, one with a South African team and obviously an adopted Welshman in Taine with us. It’s funny how the sport works, but it’s a fantastic occasion for the Plumtree family. I am sure they will go hard and then enjoy a beer maybe after the game together.”

There are a host of Springbok star names in the Sharks side, with the likes of Eben Etzebeth, Lukhanyo Am, Ox Nche, Makazole Mapimpi and Vincent Koch on board, along with full-back Aphelele Fassi, who has made more metres (967) than anyone else in the URC this season.

Cardiff’s Josh Turnbull. Photo
©INPHO/Ben Brady

Cardiff Rugby v Edinburgh Rugby, Saturday 3.05pm

It will be an emotional occasion at a packed Arms Park as the Cardiff faithful bid fond farewells to a number of long-serving players.

Stalwart forwards Ellis Jenkins and Josh Turnbull are retiring at the end of the season, while fellow Welsh internationals Tomos Williams and Rhys Carre will be leaving for Gloucester and Saracens respectively.

With Cardiff also desperate for a win after a succession of near misses, there will be no shortage of motivation for them going into this final game of the season at the famous old ground.

Head coach Matt Sherratt said: “There will be an emotional response of making sure we give a good departing memory of the Arms Park to those people whose last game it is.

“We are also keen for the wider squad to come on the pitch at the end and for the fans to get on.

“Our support has been excellent here this season in terms of numbers and voices and I think it’s important the players thank them.

“We always get more at the Arms Park and I think we will get 10 per cent more again because it is the last one here.”

Departing duo Jenkins and Carre both pack down up front, while there’s a first start for Argentine Test scrum-half Gonzalo Bertranou who is on loan from the Dragons. On the bench, flanker James Bothan returns for his first outing since injuring his knee in Wales’ Six Nations opener against Scotland in early February.

Having beaten the Scarlets 43-18 last weekend, eighth-placed Edinburgh will be looking for another win over Welsh opposition to keep up their push for a play-off spot.

Coach Sean Everitt said: “Our destiny is in our own hands and we just need to keep winning and to put in performances week in, week out from now on.

“We have just got to keep on doing what we are doing and focus on our job at hand.”

Dragons RFC v Connacht Rugby, Saturday 8pm

The Dragons are a different team on home soil and will be looking to make it five wins from their last seven matches in all competitions at Rodney Parade.

Wales hooker Elliot Dee makes his 150th appearance for the Gwent region, while fellow international forward Aaron Wainwright also comes into the side as head coach Dai Flanagan rings the changes following last week’s defeat to Benetton.

Flanagan said: “Connacht target certain games and we would be a game I imagine they will try and target for five points. It is on us to prove people wrong and perform.

“Being at home in front of our people is something we look forward to.”

As for ninth-placed Connacht, they will want to build on last weekend’s 54-16 romp against Zebre as they bid to break into the play-off zone.

Ulster Rugby v Benetton Rugby, Friday 7.35pm

A crucial game in the play-off shake-up.

There are five places separating the two sides – with Ulster tenth and Benetton fifth – but just three points.

Having come off the bench to land the late match-winning penalty against Cardiff Rugby last weekend, John Cooney now starts at scrum-half for the hosts.

Reflecting on that dramatic 19-17 victory. Cooney said: “It was a bizarre game. We were lucky probably to get the win late on.

“We showed a good bit of resolve and managed to get back in the game. It was good to get a late kick to win it.”

Explaining his selection for the trip to Belfast, Benetton coach Marco Bortolami said: “Ulster are a very high-performance team that works a lot with the forwards. For this reason, I chose to bring six forwards and two midfielders on the bench, to be competitive on a physical level for the entire 80 minutes.”

Zebre Parma v Glasgow Warriors, Saturday 1pm

Glasgow go into Round 15 just one point behind league leaders Leinster and will want to keep up the pressure on the Irish province.

They pose threats right across the park, but have a couple of backs whose stats really stand out. Scotland centre Sione Tuipulotu made more carries (22) than anyone else in the URC last weekend, while no-one has beaten more defenders overall this season than full-back Josh McKay, who returns from illness as one of nine changes from the side that beat the Sharks 21-10 last weekend,.

Meanwhile, some news from the Zebre camp. Former Cardiff defence coach Richard Hodges is to leave the Parma-based team at the end of this season to join the Italian national side as one of Gonzalo Quesada’s assistant coaches.

Emirates Lions v Munster Rugby, Saturday 4pm

Champions Munster are drawing inspiration from last season’s title triumph as they look to continue their winning ways in South Africa.

The Irish province lifted the trophy by famously beating the Stormers out in Cape Town in the final and they recorded another notable triumph in the Rainbow Nation with last weekend’s 27-22 bonus point victory over the Bulls in Pretoria.

Now they have moved on to Johannesburg for another test at altitude against the play-off chasing Lions.

Head coach Graham Rowntree said: “Coming away from home, you can always call upon those true memories, not just false belief, but true memories of what happened last year on the road.

“I think we do turn to that as a reference point, that actually happened. That gives us belief to do what we did on the road last year. You can call upon that.

“We like it here. We have got fond memories. The weather is good, there are good restaurants, nice hotels, which is important.”

Rowntree is expecting a stern challenge from the Lions, who thumped league leaders Lei 44-12 last weekend.

“It will take some doing (to win),” he said.

“This Lions team is highly under-rated. They can play rugby and they can muscle up as well. They’re a hard team.

“You saw what they did to Connacht, you saw what they did to Leinster last week. We’ve got our hands full.”

DHL Stormers v Leinster Rugby, Saturday 6.05pm

Stormers boss John Dobson is gearing up for “an epic duel” in Cape Town.

He will be wanting a response from his team after last weekend’s surprise home defeat to the Ospreys, while the visitors from Dublin are also out to make amends following their heavy loss to the Lions.

It’s a key clash in terms of the table, with Leinster now just a point clear at the top and the sixth-placed Stormers needing a win to improve their chances of making the play-offs.

Dobson said: “Hosting Leinster at DHL Stadium is a massive game no matter the circumstances, but with both teams looking to bounce back from defeat last week and the play-offs fast approaching we are expecting an epic duel.”

It will be a big occasion for 39-year-old prop Brok Harris who will become the first player to reach 150 appearances for the Stormers.

Dobson said: “This is a remarkable achievement and we couldn’t be happier for him. He is a top rugby man in every sense.”

Leinster have drafted experienced forwards Rhys Ruddock and Michael Ala’alatoa into their starting line-up, along with young fly-half Sam Prendergast, amid no fewer than nine changes from the side beaten in Johannesburg.

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