United Rugby Championship Predictions – Round 11

The United Rugby Championship is back in full swing with a mouth-watering menu of match-ups this weekend, writes Quintin van Jaarsveld.

That teams have been stripped of their Test stars, who’ve assembled in their respective national camps to prepare for the Six Nations that kicks off next weekend, there’s much to consider before placing what may otherwise have looked like sure bets. 

There are two fixtures on Friday night, with the Dragons battling Benetton and Ulster squaring off with the Scarlets. The two South African derbies, which fall under Round Nine, look set to steal the show on Saturday as the Lions and Bulls look to bounce back and the Sharks and Stormers collide in a Springbok-laden battle.

Saturday’s other clashes see Connacht host the Glasgow Warriors, Zebre takes on Munster, the Ospreys tackle table-topping Edinburgh, and Cardiff faces Leinster.

Dragons v Benetton

Friday, 28 January – 21:35

An excellent example of the Six Nations factor. Outside of the championship window, Benetton would’ve been a lock to win comfortably. They’re handily the better team, a point they hammered home with a 23-9 win in the teams’ European Challenge Cup clash two weeks ago.

With just a solitary win, the Dragons are seven places behind Benetton in 14th and on a seven-match losing skid, but the timely Test intervention stands to be their saving grace.

They’ve offloaded six players to the defending Six Nations champions whereas the pride of Italy have lost, wait for it…22 players! That’s a killer blow for any club and a gift for the Dragons.

Prediction: Dragons by 7.

Suggested bet: Dragons -3.5 at 1.78.

Ulster v Scarlets

Friday, 28 January – 21:35

Ulster stormed through the European Champions Cup pool stage unbeaten, while the outclassed Scarlets finished at the bottom of the Pool B barrel without a single win. They did surprise the Ospreys in their last URC match, but that will only serve as a warning to Ulster not to be complacent. They won’t be and with both teams losing seven Test stars, Ulster will cruise to a bonus-point win.

Prediction: Ulster by 22.

Suggested bet: Ulster -20.5 at 1.83.

Lions v Bulls

Saturday, 28 January – 15:00

A must-win for the embattled Bulls after their shock loss to the Stormers left them further entrenched at the foot of the South African Shield. The second-half fightback was a positive but the result was damning as the homecoming was expected to lift them out of the funk of their tour misfortunes and set the tone for the rest of the campaign.

It wasn’t like the four previous URC losses, the 30-26 defeat bringing a halt to their remarkable home winning streak at 24. That pain would’ve led to intense introspection at the start of the week and it will fuel them in the Jukskei derby. Expect them to come out with the fire of a thousand suns.

As much as the players were out-willed, Jake White’s selections backfired for once. That’s something he’ll have to and I’m sure he will own and rectify by naming his strongest matchday 23 – no mixing and matching URC and Currie Cup talent this weekend (surely not). As a result, they’ll be too strong for a Lions side with an iron will but one lacking in accuracy, which again cost them dearly last weekend.

Prediction: Bulls by 12.

Suggested bet: Bulls -10.5 at 1.82.

Connacht v Glasgow Warriors

Saturday, 29 January – 16:55

So close, yet so far. The Warriors’ 38-30 loss at home to La Rochelle saw them narrowly miss out on the European Champions Cup round of 16 last weekend. In hindsight, the top-flight proved an untimely disruption as it halted the momentum of back-to-back URC wins.

Connacht will be in a far greater headspace as they qualified for the last 16 for the first time despite coming up short against a spirited Stade Francais side away from home. That historic feat will bolster them and taking the excellent Leicester Tigers to the limit twice was further evidence of their improvements, which started with a 10-8 upset of Munster in their last URC game.

Their more pronounced upward curve in recent weeks points to a win for the Irish club and that they’ve only lost three players to national duty to the Warriors’ 11 suggests they’ll cover the spread.

Prediction: Connacht by 8.

Suggested bet: Connacht -5.5 at 1.85.

Sharks v Stormers

Saturday, 29 January – 17:05

The clash of the weekend – a star-studded coastal derby that could go either way. The Stormers’ Loftus siege was campaign-changing, an advert of what the Cape franchise is capable of when they’re at their physical and mental peak. The goal now is to identify what it took to flip that switch and to turn it on consistently, starting with a repeat performance in Durban.

The Sharks were rusty and still able to claim a full house from their trip to Ellis Park, a testament to their lethal backline. They have a decisive advantage in the back division, where an ineffectual center combination has hindered the Stormers’ dangerous outside backs.

This should give the hosts the edge as they have the pack to match the physicality the Stormers displayed last weekend. Phepsi Buthelezi’s power display against the Lions has him steeled for rampaging Evan Roos, Siya Kolisi’s set to return while two all-Springbok front rows are on a collision course. The striking power of the backs and familiarity of home conditions should see the Sharks through in a thriller.

Prediction: Sharks by 5.

Suggested bet: Stormers +4.5 at 1.84.

Zebre v Munster

Saturday, 29 January – 19:00

Munster scored a significant win over Ulster to re-establish themselves in the URC and was imperious in the European Champions Cup, capping an unbeaten surge into the last 16 with last weekend’s 45-7 thumping of Wasps, who’d stunned reigning champions Toulouse and the Tigers the previous weeks. Expect them to put winless Zebre to the sword despite missing nine key players as the Italian minnows are sans a quartet of stars, which is crippling for a club with the shallowest talent pool in the league.

Prediction: Munster by 28.

Suggested bet: Munster -25.5 at 1.84.

Ospreys v Edinburgh

Saturday, 29 January – 19:05

The pick of the European encounters with the hosts topping the Welsh Shield and the visitors sitting at the summit of the overall log. The Ospreys are the only team who’ve played nine matches (the rest have played eight or fewer) and their 5-4 record is a perfect illustration of their Jekyll and Hyde nature.

They’re coming off two disappointing defeats to the Glasgow Warriors and Scarlets, however, it’s their demeanor at home that’s of more interest. They sprung massive upsets over Leinster and Ulster with inspired performances, yet, they lost their last home assignment 21-13 to Sale in the European Champions Cup.

Edinburgh is on a special role that’s taken them to the top of the table for the first time in 12 years and an unbeaten run in the European Challenge Cup. However, as Scotland’s premier club, they’ve been gutted and will have to make do without 13 of their Test stars.

The Ospreys are deeply depleted as well, with eight of their elite personnel in the Welsh camp. Edinburgh has more depth, so my money’s still on them.

Prediction: Edinburgh by 3.

Suggested bet: Edinburgh -1.5 at 1.84.

Cardiff v Leinster

Saturday, 29 January – 12:35

Cardiff didn’t get a chance to sign off from the European Champions Cup in a satisfactory way at the weekend, with their final pool clash against Toulouse scrapped due to Covid cases in the French club’s camp. Their near-upset of high-flying Harlequins two weeks ago was the highlight of their campaign and showed they should never be overlooked.

Having said that, they were generally outplayed, which was also the case in their last URC game – a 34-10 loss to Edinburgh, which elevated the Scottish club to the top spot at Leinster’s expense. Leinster are on another level at the moment, following up their 89-7 massacre of Montpellier by humiliating Bath 64-7 last weekend.

As per usual, Leinster has been rocked by national call-ups – a full 15! Eleventh-placed Cardiff has the same problem though, as they’ve provided nine players to the national side, more than any other Welsh club. The strength of the Leinster squad will power them to victory, but I’m backing the hosts on the plus.

Prediction: Leinster by 14.

Suggested bet: Cardiff +16.5 at 1.71.

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Author: editor

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