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URC Round Three Preview: England hosts its first URC game as the Ospreys take on the Sharks at the Stoop

03 Nov 2023 11 minute read
Harlequins in action at the Twickenham Stoop. Photo Ben Whitley/PA Wire

Simon Thomas

Ospreys v Hollywoodbets Sharks, Friday 19:35 

Ospreys coach Toby Booth says it’s full speed ahead for the first ever BKT URC game to be played in England. He feels the Sharks are kindred spirits and will join his team in putting on an entertaining encounter at the Twickenham Stoop.

“Like us, they are positive. They are certainly a side that wants to be fast and wants to be exciting,” said Booth. “That is obvious to me. You look at the stats, with them, us, Glasgow, you can see teams that are definitely trying to be positive. I think it’s going to be quick and then it will come down to who can execute what they want to do.”

On the ground-breaking initiative of playing in London, Booth said: “Everybody within rugby is trying to develop the match-day experience and this is an example of trying to do things differently. American sports often lead the way in that.

“Die-hard rugby fans are going to want to watch rugby whatever. We are in a competitive business to try and get people interested in the game, what it looks like on the pitch, what it looks like before the game, in the media. All of these things create a greater connection between people.

“The more connectivity we have with people and the more they can relate to it the more chance you are going to get new blood into the sport.”

Booth knows the Stoop well, having previously coached Harlequins there.

“It is a nice tight little ground, there is a good atmosphere,” he said. “I know the Quins supporters are rugby people and probably a few of those are going to come out and watch it as independents and neutrals. It is a good rugby venue and part of London that is rugby centred.”

The consistently excellent Morgan Morris captains the Ospreys from No 8, with openside Harri Deaves making his first start of the season alongside him in the back row.

For the Sharks, Scotland international Dylan Richardson – capped once as a back row forward in 2021 – comes in at hooker, while Springbok winger Aphiwe Dyantyi is also drafted into the starting line-up.

Glasgow Warriors v DHL Stormers, Friday 19:35 

This is a mouth-watering meeting between two sides that have led the way on the attacking front so far this season.

Glasgow have beaten the most defenders (59), with elusive fly-half Tom Jordan leaving seven in his wake against Connacht last week – the most by any player in Round 2.

Meanwhile, the table-topping Stormers – the only team with maximum points – have made the most metres of any side (1,018), while also scoring the joint most tries (12).
Glasgow welcome back Scotland trio Sione Tuipulotu, Matt Fagerson and Ollie Smith for their first appearances of the season, as they look to bounce back from their defeat in Galway.

The Stormers begin their four-match BKT URC tour of Europe with former London Irish wing Ben Loader moving into the centre, while Jean-Luc du Plessis is fit to start at fly-half.

Looking ahead to the Scotstoun showdown, their coach John Dobson said: “This will be an altogether different challenge to what we have faced already this season on an artificial pitch in the northern autumn. There are a few players coming in for their first appearance of the campaign and they are all keen to make an impact, so we are looking forward to the challenge.”

Zebre Parma v Vodacom Bulls, Saturday 13:00 

While Zebre Parma may have lost their last 21 matches in the BKT URC, there is new found optimism in their camp after the way they have started the season.

They led at half-time against both Ulster and the Ospreys before going down to narrow defeats, picking up four bonus points along the way. Defence coach Richard Hodges – who has come on board after a decade with Cardiff Rugby – is encouraged by what he has seen.

“We have hugely improved our kicking game, our discipline has been good, our set piece is a threat and we’ve scored a maul try in each match,” he said. “People are starting to have a bit of respect back for Zebre. We are going in the right direction.

“I came here because I wanted a real challenge. Can we turn them from a side that’s a bit of a laughing stock at times into one that’s viewed differently? The perception was you just had to turn up against Zebre. The reality now is that people will take us seriously.

“We now go into three homes games – Bulls, Sharks, Cardiff. It won’t be easy, but our aim is to try and knock one of them over. I promise you, if we keep training like we do, we will win games this year.”

Fleet-footed Zebre wing Simone Gesi is the top try scorer in the BKT URC after the opening two rounds with four, while flanker Elrigh Louw will be a key man for the Bulls, having made the joint most tackles (34).

Vodacom Bulls boss Jake White said: “Zebre were in both their opening games till the death, so we know they will be tough opponents, for sure. We expect them to score a lot of points. They scored 36 in the opening match and 36 in their second, so they score a lot of tries. We expect a tough game and for them to test our defence really hard.”

Leinster Rugby v Edinburgh Rugby, Saturday 15:05 

Edinburgh welcome back Scotland stars Duhan van der Merwe and Pierre Schoeman for their trip to the RDS as they look to make it three from three in the BKT URC.

Fellow World Cup squad member Luke Crosbie moves across to No 8 having put in no fewer than 23 tackles from the flank in the victory over the Emirates Lions last weekend, the most by any player in Round 2.

Coach Sean Everitt said: “We’re delighted to welcome back Pierre and Duhan. They are quality players with a lot of experience at the very top. They’ve trained really hard this week and are both excited to represent the club once again.

“Leinster are a quality side and a team we have a lot of respect for from 1 to 23, but we travel to Dublin with a lot of confidence after two hard-fought wins to start the season, and we can take a lot of positives from the resilience we’ve shown in closing out both victories.”

No player has beaten more defenders in the BKT URC this season than Leinster wing Tommy O’Brien, with 10 opponents left clutching thin air, so Edinburgh will have to keep him on a tight rein.

Scarlets v Cardiff Rugby, Saturday 17:15 

Dwayne Peel and Gethin Jenkins were long-time team-mates for Wales and the Lions, but this weekend they will be locking horns on the coaching front.

Scarlets boss Peel has a lot of respect for Jenkins who has rejoined Cardiff after a couple of years with the national set-up.

“Gethin has come back in as defence coach and you can see his characteristics in the team,” he said. “He was an uncompromising player and he has brought that level of intensity and steel to them. Cardiff have got some good athletes and they will be a tough team. I felt they had a bit of edge about them against the Dragons last week.

“Thomas Young coming back in the mix is huge for them with what he brings. I think he’s a very good player. In derby games, you’ve got to be right up for it and I’m looking forward to seeing the boys fly into that. It’s a first game at home for us, so it’s a big one.”

The Scarlets welcome back Wales scrum-half Gareth Davies, while another World Cup player, Tonga’s Vaea Fifita, returns from suspension at No 8, as they look to turn things around after two heavy defeats out in South Africa.

Cardiff, for their part, introduce their own Tongan international at No 8 in the fit-again Lopeti Timani, which sees Seb Davies reverting to lock. Their defence coach Jenkins is expecting a stern test from the Scarlets.

“They’ve obviously had a tough start to the season, but we’ve been around long enough to know South Africa is a tough place to go,” said the former Test prop.
“We’ll see the best Scarlets they’ve probably been this season and we know what’s coming from them. They Are a proud bunch and they’ve got good support, so it’s going to be a tough challenge for us.”

Munster Rugby v Dragons RFC, Saturday 17:15 

Reigning champions Munster have made seven changes to the side that drew with Benetton out in Italy last week, with summer signings Alex Nankivell and Seán O’Brien making their first starts in the back division, while returning Ireland international Jack Crowley is among the replacements.

On the injury front, fly-half Joey Carbery is to undergo surgery on the wrist he damaged in Treviso. The Dragons warmed up for their trip to Cork by training against Wales who were, in turn, preparing for their meeting with the Barbarians.

Reflecting on the run through at the Principality Stadium, coach Dai Flanagan: “It was a great opportunity to have a combined session. It was really worthwhile.

“The intensity Wales bring gave us a challenge ready for going to Munster. The biggest learning was just how quick they move things. It was a chance to feel the speed before going out to Cork. It was great for us because we will be better for it.”

The Dragons head into the meeting with the title holders having suffered successive home defeats to Edinburgh and Cardiff.

“There is a real hurt in the group,” said Flanagan. “It shows how much every individual here cares about the place, cares about each other and cares about the outcomes.”

The visitors show no fewer than ten changes for the Musgrave Park contest, with Wales World Cup back row Taine Basham coming in at No 8, while prop Luke Yendle and flanker Ryan Woodman are handed first starts.

Connacht Rugby v Ulster Rugby, Saturday: 19:35 

This all-Irish affair could well be the game of the weekend, with both teams having won their opening two matches.

There is also the added spice of Ulster being out for revenge having lost at home to the team from Galway in the BKT URC play-off quarter-finals last season.

Connacht coach Pete Wilkins said: “That result will certainly add fuel to their fire. We are expecting them to come at us strong. It will be a really good challenge for us.

“Any game against Ulster comes with enormous edge, a lot of intensity and a lot of physicality. Our encounters with them have been particularly abrasive and exciting in the last few years.

“We stepped up from Ospreys to Glasgow and did a good job last weekend against a quality team, but to have a big inter-pro rival and all the emotion that comes with that from both sides, it’s a really cool challenge as the next piece for us.”

Ulster boss Dan McFarland commented: “The last time we met, we didn’t do ourselves justice. Connacht played very well in that game, we played one of our worst games of the year. There is definitely history around that.

“We have an understanding that we need heart, passion, that feeling of letting ourselves down, but we also need to be clinical and good at the rugby. We have to be on the money rugby-wise, as well as being really pumped up for it.”

As for individuals to watch out for, Connacht centre Cathal Forde has made more carries (32) than any other player in the league this term, while flanker Shamus Hurley-Langton has pulled off the most turnovers (6). Against that, Ulster No 8 Nick Timoney carried 19 times in the victory over the Bulls last weekend, the highest tally in Round 2.

Benetton Rugby v Emirates Lions, Sunday 13:30 

Unbeaten Benetton pose a particular threat at the breakdown, having won seven turnovers in both of their opening two fixtures against Cardiff and Munster.

This encounter in Treviso will also be a fixture that sees two lineout aces in operation.

The home side’s Zimbabwean lock and skipper Eli Snyman has won more lineouts (18) than any other player in the competition so far this season, while Lions No 8 Francke Horn claimed eight against Edinburgh last weekend as well showing his power by ploughing over for a try.

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