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URC Round 10 preview: Scarlets and Munster clash as second half of the season gets underway

16 Feb 2024 9 minute read
Scarlets coach Dwayne Peel (Credit: Inpho Photography)

Simon Thomas

Scarlets v Munster Rugby, Friday 7.35pm

The weekend gets underway with a meeting between two sides looking to revive their league campaign in the second half of the season.

The Scarlets have won just two matches so far this term, while reigning champions Munster are down in eleventh in the table.

The hosts have centre Joe Roberts and prop Kemsley Mathias back from the Wales camp, while there are returns from injury for Johnny McNicholl and Dan Jones, plus an immediate debut for newly recruited South African flanker Jarrod Taylor.

For Munster, scrum-half Conor Murray and props Oli Jager and Jeremy Loughman step into the starting XV having been released from Six Nations squad duties with Ireland, while RG Snyman and Mike Haley are also back on board having regained fitness.

Setting out his team’s objectives, Scarlets coach Dwayne Peel said: “We recognise we have not been good enough, so it’s about us putting that right. It’s weird it is only halfway through the season.

“We have nine games to go, six of those at home, so we have plenty to play for.

“It’s important we get right into the season because there are not too many points between sides, so there is plenty to play for and it’s about chasing as high up the table as we can.

“We have got a few boys back from injury so we are looking forward to getting stuck into this next block.

“We know Munster will be physical and their DNA is that they are very competitive at the breakdown. It will be a big challenge.”

Zebre Parma v Edinburgh Rugby, Friday 7.35pm

Another game where both sides are boosted by international reinforcements.

Zebre welcome back six players released from Italy’s Six Nations camp, while the visitors have Scotland duo Ali Price and Ben Healy at half-back, plus Jamie Ritchie captaining the team from the pack.

It’s a landmark game for Edinburgh flanker Hamish Watson who becomes the first back row to make 150 appearances for the club.

Looking ahead to the game, his coach Sean Everitt commented: “Zebre are much improved this season. This is an important fixture for us. We’ve trained well and are ready for the challenge. With a number of our internationalists coming back into a settled squad, there is a good balance throughout the 23.”

Emirates Lions v Vodacom Bulls, Saturday 1pm

The first of two South African derbies this weekend.

It’s an immediate rematch with the two sides having met in Pretoria at the end of last month, when the Bulls secured a narrow 30-28 victory.

Now it’s the Lions who have home advantage in Johannesburg, with in-form fly-half Sanele Nohamba and centre Marius Louw set to be key men for them.

The Bulls welcome back Springbok wings Kurt-Lee Arendse and Canan Moodie, with coach Jake White expecting another tough challenge.

“We are going to have to play well, almost our best rugby like it’s Test rugby,” said the former Springboks boss.

“The Lions have played well and been together for a prolonged period. They have continuity and cohesion. They have managed to keep their squad together and the longer you keep a group together, the better they play.”

Leinster Rugby v Benetton Rugby, 3pm

First plays second in this mouth-watering top of the table clash at the RDS.

Ahead of the game, Leinster’s senior coach Jacques Nienaber has been giving his thoughts on Benetton, who have lost just once in the league all season.

“They have brought in players recently that suit the soul of the team,” said the man who guided the Springboks to World Cup glory in the autumn.

“They have a style of play that has been there all season. The Italian players won’t be part of the team, so it will be tough to prepare for, but they are in the same situation as us.”

Leinster are skippered by flanker Scott Penny, while there is a debut for Academy full-back Henry McErlean who was part of the Ireland team that won last year’s U20s Six Nations.

Jacob Umaga – normally a fly-half – lines up at full-back for Benetton, with Argentinian Tomas Albornoz at No 10, while Eli Snyman captains the team from lock.

Hollywoodbets Sharks v DHL Stormers, 3.05pm

Another rematch of a close-fought Round 9 derby, with the DHL Stormers having triumphed 16-15 in Cape Town at the end of December.

The Hollywoodbets Sharks are looking to turn their league season around in the second half of the campaign, having won just one of their nine matches so far to lie bottom of the table.

Similarly, having been finalists for the past two years, the Stormers aren’t used to being in mid-table so will want to move up the ladder.

Sharks head coach John Plumtree, who has Springboks hooker Bongi Mbonambi back on board, said:

“We’re looking for some consistency in our performances to find some real confidence and belief in how we can play this game.

“We haven’t found that real consistency to how we want to perform, although there have been periods where we’ve played some of our best rugby.

“When we played the Stormers down in Cape Town, it was a really gutsy performance built around pressure and good defence.”

The Stormers are reinforced by the return of Evan Roos, Sacha Feinberg-Mngomezulu and Salmaan Moerat for this coastal derby.

Their coach John Dobson commented: “The break was good for us and it is fantastic to welcome back some top players from injury.

“We go straight into a big derby game away from home, so we understand the size of the task we face in Durban and hopefully we will be able to hit our straps as quickly as possible.”

Cardiff Rugby’s Thomas Young starred in the win over the Ospreys. Photo Steven Paston PA Images

Cardiff Rugby v Connacht Rugby, Saturday 5.15pm

It’s set to be a sell-out at the Arms Park and a packed house can expect a fast and furious encounter given the way the two teams look to play.

That will be music to the ears of Cardiff openside flanker Thomas Young who relishes an expansive approach.

“We’re preparing for a bit of an open game because both sides like to have a go, throwing the ball around,” he said.

“We’re not the biggest team, so we’ve got to play to what we think we’re good at and we do have a good go, which suits me.

“It’s exciting and that seems to be what’s bringing the crowds in.”

But Young, who is fit again after suffering three calf tears this season, says it’s vital the end product is successful as well as entertaining.

“Our performances have been alright, but we know we need to start winning,” he said.

“The crowds at the Arms Park have been huge this season, so it would be nice to get a win for them.

“It’s up to us to make sure we turn those close losses into wins.”

Young will be joined in the back row by new signing Ben Donnell who has come on board from Gloucester, while fellow forwards Seb Davies and Mackenzie Martin have been released from the Wales camp.

There are just three points between the two sides in the URC table and Connacht coach Pete Wilkins recognises this is a key contest.

“If we are serious about getting a top eight or a top four spot, these are the games we should be winning,” he said.

“But, at the same time, it’s a massive challenge, particularly away from home. I’m excited by it. The whole group is. We feel as though we are ready for a game.”

Tying in with Origins round in the BKT URC, it will be regional clubs day at the Arms Park, with youngsters from a host of community clubs attending the game.

Glasgow Warriors v Dragons RFC, Saturday, 7.35pm

Argentine winger Facundo Cordero will make his long-awaited Glasgow debut in this Round 10 clash at Scotstoun.

Having joined from Exeter last summer, he then suffered an ankle injury in pre-season, but now he’s ready to take his bow. At the other end of the scale, there will be a 100th appearance for prop Jamie Bhatti.

Giving his thoughts ahead of Club of Origin night, head coach Franco Smith said:

“We’re looking forward to being back at home as we celebrate all of the clubs from Glasgow, Scotland and beyond that helped to shape our Warriors.”

For the Dragons, Angus O’Brien returns at fly-half after a couple of months out with a broken arm, while there is a debut for former Wales U20s wing Oli Andrew.

Coach Dai Flanagan said: “It’s good to have Angus back out on the park for us. He’s like an Energizer bunny around the place.”

Ospreys v Ulster Rugby, Sunday 3pm

Justin Tipuric returns to captain the Ospreys from the openside flank after some three months out with a broken thumb, while fellow international forward Nicky Smith is fit again to start at loosehead prop.

There’s also a welcome comeback among the replacements for Test winger Alex Cuthbert who has been sidelined for the best part of a year.

Just three points separate the two teams in the table, so Ospreys coach Toby Booth is well aware of the significance of the fixture as eighth hosts fifth.

“Having players back is obviously important,” he said.

“We’re looking to continue our momentum, but we know that any opposition is tough at any time of the year.

“You can see that in the closeness in the table, so we’ll need to be good and hope that they’re not.”

Ulster have Irish internationals Iain Henderson, Jacob Stockdale, Nick Timoney and Tom Stewart  back from Six Nations squad duty, with the first three starting and try-scoring hooker Stewart in reserve alongside fellow front rower Steven Kitshoff.

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