Five things to watch out for in Round 12 of the BKT United Rugby Championship
SCRUM SHOWDOWN IN NEWPORT
The stats would suggest the scrum is going to be a key area in Friday night’s BKT URC clash between the Dragons and the Vodacom Bulls at Rodney Parade.
Jake White’s visitors from Pretoria have won more penalties from opposition scrums (nine) than any other team in the league. Their opponents have averaged just an 86 per cent success rate in that department.
At the same time, Dragons props Chris Coleman and Aki Seiuli – who both start in the front row this weekend – are the two most heavily penalised players in the competition, conceding 16 and 14 respectively.
Overall, the Dragons have the lowest scrum success (79 per cent) and have given away a league-high 12 penalties on their own feed. So the tight exchanges could well be crucial, especially with rain forecast for Friday evening in Newport, making a forward arm-wrestle likely.
The Scarlets have lost the league’s top carrier for Saturday’s Welsh derby against Cardiff Rugby at the Arms Park, with Sione Kalamafoni suspended following his red card in the win over the Dragons.
But they will be able to call on another key player who is hitting the heights in the BKT URC charts. International full-back Johnny McNicholl has run for more metres (607) than any other player in the league this season, showing his penchant for counter-attacking, while his excellent skill-set is demonstrated by him also leading the way for offloads, adding two more last weekend to take his tally to 15.
On the other side of the coin, Cardiff really go into overdrive when they don’t have the ball. Thomas Young (154) and Josh Turnbull (124) are first and second on the league’s tackle chart, while Young and another back rower James Botham have won more turnovers than any other players (14 and 12 respectively).
On the negative side, Cardiff have the poorest lineout stats in the competition, collecting their own throw just 78 per cent of the time, while conceding 19 steals, the second-highest total.
As for the Scarlets, discipline has been the Achilles heel, with Kalamafoni their fourth player to be red carded. That’s comfortably the highest tally, with only Italians Benetton and Zebre – two apiece – having had more than one man sent off among the other sides. Dwayne Peel’s team have also collected 11 yellows, three of those to fly-half Sam Costelow.
LEINSTER’S ATTACKING THREAT
As well as topping the BKT URC table, Leinster are also leading the way in attacking terms, having scored more points (360) and tries (51) than any other team in the process of winning all 11 of their league matches to date.
They provide two of the top three in the try-scoring chart, with wing Rob Russell and hooker Dan Sheehan both having touched down seven times. No forward has scored more tries than Sheehan, with only Edinburgh’s sidelined Scotland winger Darcy Graham ahead on nine.
Faced with this kind of consistent attacking threat, their opponents on Saturday evening, the Ospreys, will have to be ultra disciplined defensively at the Swansea.com Stadium. But that is an area where they have excelled this term, conceding the fewest penalties – just 93 – and being caught offside just seven times. They have also won more scrum penalties on their own feed than any other team (28).
SHARKS SHOW THEIR TEETH
The Cell C Sharks have really turned things around since losing 35-0 at home to Cardiff in late November, having won five games on the trot in the BKT URC and Heineken Champions Cup going into Saturday’s meeting with Connacht out in Galway.
They are using their scrum as a real attacking platform, scoring more tries from that area (six) than any other team this season, with Springboks Ox Nche, Bongi Mbonambi and Thomas du Toit providing real front row power.
For Connacht, Jack Carty continues to demonstrate his kicking prowess out of hand, having put boot to ball more often (116) and kicked more metres (4,432) than any other player in the league. With the wind and rain you often encounter out in Galway, that tactical side of the game can be crucial.
No team is better at converting pressure into points than Franco Smith’s in-form Glasgow Warriors, who welcome the DHL Stormers to Scotstoun on Sunday looking for a sixth straight win in all competitions.
They have scored a try or been awarded a penalty on a league-high 63 per cent of their visits to the opposition 22. They also have the highest rate of ball retention in the maul in the BKT URC (96 per cent), which is priceless given how many scores now stem from that area off lineout drives.
Turning to the second-placed Stormers, playmakers Manie Libbok and Damien Willemse both finished in the top three for metres made last weekend, gaining 115 and 118 respectively against the Emirates Lions, while No 8 Hacjivah Dayimani continued his fine form by delivering two try assists and making three clean breaks. Blindside flanker Deon Fourie won four turnovers, the highest total of the round.
Players to Watch in R12
Who’s in hot form and ready to make headlines in Round 12 of the BKT United Rugby Championship
SAM LOUSI (SCARLETS)
The Tongan international lock is one of the most skilful players in the URC, as demonstrated by him having produced more offloads (11) than any other forward. With his trademark penchant for carrying the ball in one hand, he is always looking to keep the attack alive and will pose a real threat to Cardiff at the Arms Park on Saturday, following on from his Player of the Match display in the victory over the Dragons last weekend.
Scarlets defence coach Gareth Williams says: “Sam has got so much ability to express himself and he sees the game so well. He also makes a real positive defensive impact and leads by example. He is an exceptional talent, but he has a good work ethic with it as well. You balance that with his understanding of the game and you get exciting performances.”
HACJIVAH DAYIMANI (DHL STORMERS)
His surname means “diamond” in Zulu and the 25-year-old No 8 is certainly a jewel in the crown of the URC champions. He was inspired to take up rugby by watching Bryan Habana sparkle for the World Cup-winning Springboks in 2007 and he has the kind of pace that wouldn’t go amiss on the wing.
His form has been exceptional of late, reflected by him picking up the Man of the Match award after last week’s 40-8 victory over the Emirates Lions in Cape Town, where he produced two try assists and made three clean breaks.
Containing his defence-splitting threat will be a real challenge for Glasgow at Scotstoun on Sunday afternoon.
JORDAN LARMOUR (LEINSTER)
There were two tries from the side-stepping winger amid a Player of the Match performance in the 41-12 victory over Connacht on New Year’s Day which had former Ireland star Jamie Heaslip singing his praises.
“He’s X-Factor, he’s a bit of magic, he can create something out of nothing. He evades defenders and he makes people bite in and be unsure,” said Heaslip.
What’s also notable is Larmour’s willingness to roam and look for work. Speaking about this himself after the match, he said: “As wingers, you are always trying to look to get into the game. Sometimes games might get away from you and you might not get much ball. So it’s something we talk about, trying to work off the ball and pick up little lines here and there.”
The Ospreys are going to have to keep a close eye on the wandering wing at the Swansea.com Stadium on Saturday evening.
SEBASTIAN CANCELLIERE (GLASGOW WARRIORS)
The Argentine Test winger has now beaten more defenders (25) than any other player in the URC, while he has also made the third highest number of clean breaks (12) and is high up the offload chart with 11.
So he will be a key attacking weapon when in-form Glasgow play hosts to the DHL Stormers at Scotstoun on Sunday afternoon.
Giving his thoughts on the Californian-born 29-year-old, head coach Franco Smith commented: “He’s very consistent. He is always up there. He’s a real threat with the ball in hand, a really rapid and elusive player, with various skill sets. He’s an instinctive player, but employs that well into our attack system, which makes him dangerous.”
FEDERICO RUZZA (BENETTON)
It’s been a big week for the Padua-born Italian international. On New Year’s Eve, he scored a hat-trick of tries in the 40-17 victory away to his former club Zebre, some achievement from the second row.
Then it was announced he has signed a new five-year contract, committing his future to Benetton until June 2028. He said he was “honoured, happy and proud” to continue his stay with the club, having grown as a person and as a player within a “great group”.
With 36 caps for Italy, he is now a seasoned Test campaigner and will be a vital figure in Saturday afternoon’s URC showdown with Ulster out in Treviso.
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