URC Round One preview: Justin Tipuric makes 200th appearance for the Ospreys
Connacht v Ospreys, 15:00 Saturday
Ospreys great Justin Tipuric makes his 200th appearance for the region as he captains them from the openside flank at the Galway Sportsground.
Meanwhile, centre Tom Farrell brings up the century for Connacht, who have Englishman Pete Wilkins at the coaching helm following his move up from an assistant’s role.
Ospreys coach Toby Booth said: “We know Galway is a very difficult place to go for lots of reasons. Conditions-wise, it’s sometimes challenging there and they are always a very committed bunch. They play a positive style of play and they will want to impose themselves on us, as we will look to do to them.”
His counterpart Wilkins said: “We’ve never come up against an Ospreys team that isn’t unbelievably physical and well organised. That’s part of their DNA over the years and what Toby Booth brings to the table. So we will have to front up physically and play really well.
“Being at home, we will want to assert our own style of play and make a statement about what we want to do this season, but we know it will be a big challenge.”
Dragons v Edinburgh, 15:05 Saturday
Having been named as a fly-half in the Wales’ squad for next month’s game against the Barbarians, Cai Evans lines up at full-back as he makes his league debut for the Dragons following his move from the Ospreys. Back row forward Ollie Griffiths makes his 100th appearance for the Gwent outfit who are now back in private ownership after six years under the WRU.
New Edinburgh coach Sean Everitt, the former Sharks boss, is expecting a stern test at Rodney Parade. “We will be playing against a determined Dragons team,” said the South African. “They wouldn’t be happy with where they finished in the log last season. They would like to prove the public wrong and get one over on us. We are expecting a physical onslaught from them.”
Cardiff Rugby v Benetton, 17:15 Saturday
Released at the end of last season, Welsh international centre Willis Halaholo is now back starting for Cardiff having signed a short-term contract.
Looking ahead to the season opener, newly promoted head coach Matt Sherratt said: “Benetton are a very organised team, with a really good attack, especially off set-piece.
“They have got lots of variety, lots of trick plays and have signed really well. They have a pretty good squad.”
As for Benetton boss Marco Bortolami, he is looking to set the record straight after a costly 30-13 defeat on their last visit to the Arms Park in February. “We were disappointed with that game because we didn’t play well at all,” said the former Italy second row.
“We have been talking about that match and we want to be better.
“It was one of those games we had a big regret about at the end of the season. So we have got to make sure we don’t have that regret this time. If we can be our best version, we can leave with the result at the end of the day.”
Bortolami has picked out starting flanker Alessandro Izekor as a player he has high hopes for.
Vodacom Bulls v Scarlets, 14:00 Sunday
The Vodacom Bulls’ starting line-up features two players who really shone on the stats front last season.
Back row Elrigh Louw made more metres in contact (263) than any other player in the BKT URC, while centre David Kriel made the most clean breaks (23).
Tongan star Sam Lousi returns from World Cup duty to start for the Scarlets and he will be a key figure, having made more offloads (18) and beat more defenders (18) than any other second row in the BKT URC last season.
Zebre Parma v Ulster, 13:00 Saturday
Starting Zebre centre Enrico Lucchin will by a key man out in Parma, having made the most carries (98) and the most metres in contact (123) for the Italian outfit in the BKT URC last season.
Hooker Tom Stewart – who set a new all-time try scoring record for the league last term – captains the visitors, with a number of his 16 touchdowns having come from lineout mauls, an area where Ulster are particularly potent.
Emirates Lions v DHL Stormers, 15:05 Saturday
The Lions will have to be on their mettle defensively in this South African derby in Johannesburg as the Stormers made more offloads (247) than any other team in the league last season, while they also boasted the best rate of gainline success (58%), with their starting No 8 this weekend, Evan Roos, a pivotal figure on that ball-carrying front.
Munster v Hollywoodbets Sharks, 19:35 Saturday
Jack O’Donoghue captains Munster from the back row as they begin the defence of their BKT URC title by taking on the Hollywoodbets Sharks in Limerick.
Their forwards coach Andy Kyriacou commented: “We want to start well and it starts against the Sharks at Thomond Park. We know what a challenge the season is, having gone through it last year.
“We are just looking forward to getting going again, having finished as strongly as we did.”
Starting Sharks flanker Phepsi Buthelezi made more carries (111) and more tackles (115) than any other player for the Durban-based outfit in the URC last season. He also beat 22 defenders, more than any other forward in his squad.
Glasgow Warriors v Leinster, 16:00 Sunday
Glasgow are boosted by the return of a number of Scotland’s World Cup front-liners, including flanker Rory Darge, centre Huw Jones and prop Zander Fagerson.
Darge helped them win a league-high total of 145 turnovers last season, while Jones and Argentine wing Sebastian Cancelliere – who also starts – contributed to them beating more defenders than any other team (398).
Head coach Franco Smith commented: “Leinster will be disappointed at the fact that for two years they have dominated the competition with no reward.”
His opposite number Leo Cullen said: “Franco is a hugely experienced coach who has brought a real feel-good factor to that group. It’s a tough place to go Scotstoun. They are a vociferous crowd there and they get behind their team.”
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