2024 Glasgow Warriors vs Cardiff

BKT United Rugby Championship: All To Play For, As Playoff Run Begins

BKT United Rugby Championship: All To Play For, As Playoff Run Begins

Here's a preview of Round 12 of the BKT URC, which sees key playoff positions up for grabs with just five points between fourth and 11th place.

Mar 22, 2024 by Philip Bendon
BKT United Rugby Championship: All To Play For, As Playoff Run Begins

Round 12 of the 2024 BKT United Rugby Championship returns following the conclusion of the 2024 Guinness Six Nations.

Now firmly on the home stretch toward the playoffs, Round 12 is perhaps the most crucial round of the season thus far, given how congested the current table is right now.

With just five points separating fourth and 11th place, the playoff positions could look significantly different on Sunday.

Breaking down all of the action is this full preview, courtesy of the United Rugby Championship's in-house media team:

Ospreys Vs. Munster Rugby

Opposing coaches Toby Booth and Graham Rowntree have been singing each other’s praises ahead of this crucial Swansea showdown between two playoff contenders. 

Their paths have crossed plenty of times in the past from their days coaching in England, and now they are renewing rivalry in the BKT URC. 

Giving his thoughts on Rowntree, Ospreys boss Booth said: 

“When I started coaching, he was still playing, which probably shows my age as much as his! 

“I came into Harlequins after he was there, and he was spoken of very highly there. 

“He is a good rugby man who comes from a brilliant rugby pedigree. He’s a typical English forward - opinionated, bloody-minded and strong. 

“His team resembles that, which is the best compliment you can give them. If you look at how they won the league last year, it was those sort of attributes that got them over the line.

“He’s done a really, really good job there. They have kicked on and, like all the Irish provinces, they are very, very competitive and tough. We need to make sure we meet those attributes the way we have to and work around it. So, a tough challenge, a very tough proposition for sure, but an exciting one.” 

The Ospreys lie 10th in the table but are only two points off the playoffs and just four behind sixth-place Munster, so this is a vital encounter. 

“Our home form has been good, and continuing that is important for us to establish ourselves as a competitor,” said Booth, who previously coached London Irish, Bath and Harlequins. “We have created an opportunity to get ourselves into the final shake-up, and home games are probably the primary games that have allowed us to do that. This match, and the next one at home to the Lions, are very important for us in terms of staying within that top 8 realm, which we all want to be in.” 

Meanwhile, Munster's Rowntree has been delivering his verdict on Booth and his team. 

“These are a sticky outfit,” said the former England prop. “I am immensely impressed by their coach Toby Booth. I have known him for a long time. He has really brought that Ospreys squad together. They are playing a good brand of rugby and they are just tough to play against. 

“They have got a good set-piece, a good maul, so discipline will be top of the list for us. 

“I am a big fan of them. They are a good breakdown threat, they apply pressure through their kicking game. 

“We are going to have to be good. I have been building this game up for a long time. It’s a huge game for us.” 

For Ospreys, fit-again fly-half Owen Williams makes his first start since New Year’s Day, while Wales center Owen Watkin returns from Six Nations duty as a sub. 

As for the Munster camp, it’s a big day for fullback Mike Haley, who makes his 100th appearance and 100th start for the province. 

Glasgow Warriors Vs. Cardiff Rugby

Cardiff will travel to Scotstoun aiming to prove it is a better side than its 12th spot in the BKT URC table would suggest. 

Cardiff has only won three of its 11 league matches, but it has picked up eight bonus points, a reflection of how competitive the team has been. 

“The table probably doesn’t reflect how we feel here," said center Ben Thomas. “We’ve had a lot of close games. It’s probably the first season I can remember where we’ve come away with something from pretty much every league game. They have all been really close, and it definitely doesn’t feel around here like we are sitting 12th in the table. 

“There is a real good feeling around the place, and that’s probably down to the rugby we have played and how close the games have been. 

“The ones we have lost have all pretty much been last-minute losses, and on a different day, that could go a different way. 

“It’s all about turning one of those narrow defeats into a win. 

“As long as our processes are in place, then I am sure eventually those wins will come.”

Cardiff has Wales Six Nations squad members Mason Grady, Mackenzie Martin and Teddy Williams in the starting lineup, with Seb Davies on the bench. 

Grady reverts to his regular wing role after an impressive outing off the bench at inside center for Wales against Italy last weekend. 

Meanwhile, no fewer than eight of the Glasgow players involved in the Scotland setup across the Six Nations return to club action, with test winger Kyle Steyn captaining the side. 

Their head coach, Franco Smith, commented: “We know we will need to be at our best. Cardiff will pose a strong challenge, with a powerful pack of forwards and some high-quality backs that will test us around the park.” 

Hollywoodbets Sharks Vs. Ulster Rugby

Having completed his Six Nations duties with Ireland U20s, Ulster’s interim head coach Richie Murphy is at the helm for the first time, as the province undertakes its two-match tour of South Africa. 

The 54-year-old has stepped into the role in the wake of the departure of Dan McFarland last month. 

Giving his thoughts on taking on the job, former Ireland assistant coach Murphy said: 

“It’s an absolute honour and a privilege, considering the history behind Ulster rugby.

“I always enjoyed coming to Kingspan when I was part of the senior management. 

“It’s a special place to be, especially when the crowd gets in behind the lads. 

“My focus is on trying to help the guys move their rugby on a little bit over the next couple of weeks and try and build a little bit of momentum on the back of the win over the Dragons.” 

As for whether he would like to do the job on a permanent basis beyond this season, he said: “I would be very interested in staying in Ulster. 

“I am quite comfortable in what I can do, who I am and the work I have done in the last few years.” 

The bottom-of-the-table Sharks have a number of Springbok stars on board, with center Lukhanyo Am, lock Eben Etzebeth and wing Makazole Mapimpi all returning to join hooker Bongi Mbonambi in the starting lineup, while prop Ox Nche is on the bench. 

Coach John Plumtree said: “This is a team I’ve been wanting to select for a while. We are getting our squad back. We just want to get going with a good performance. 

“We are also looking to create some competition in the squad. There hasn’t really been enough pressure on players for selection. That makes players comfortable and complacent. A full-strength Sharks has competition for places and that’s what we want. 

“We’ve got three months of rugby left. We see it as a really exciting time for us.” 

Scarlets Vs. Benetton Rugby

Sam Costelow has been urged to play with a smile on his face and enjoy his rugby as he returns to BKT URC action. 

It was a difficult Six Nations for Costelow, who shared in Wales’ wooden spoon, while the spotlight always is on the No 10 in Welsh rugby. 

But Scarlets coach Dwayne Peel has full belief in the 23-year-old who starts at fly-half against Benetton. 

“I have been part of a wooden spoon campaign myself, and it’s emotionally tough at the time,” said the former Wales scrum-half. “The Italy game was hard for Sam. He was obviously on the back foot, and for any 10, that’s going to be hard. That is the reality. But I know how good a player he is and how important he is to us.

“He needs to go out and enjoy his rugby. I don’t like it when I see him putting too much pressure on himself. 

“I think we need to help him in that respect as well. It’s not a case of mollycoddling him. 

"That’s not what I am saying. You have got to give him direction, but people around him are equally as important to drive him through. 

“He has been a top performer for us. He has got a good skill set. He is a leader for us, and he will be for many years.” 

Peel added: “For us, it’s about going out and expressing ourselves. The likes of Sam, I want them to play with a smile on their face and go out and play rugby.” 

With Costelow starting at No 10, Wales’ other fly-half during the Six Nations, the versatile Ioan Lloyd, switches to fullback, while scrum-half Gareth Davies also returns from the test camp to skipper the side with Jonathan Davies coming into the center. 

DHL Stormers Vs. Edinburgh

It will be a huge occasion for WP Nel as he reaches a major career landmark on his return to the land where he was born and raised. 

The Scotland tighthead prop will make his 200th appearance for Edinburgh when he steps out on the field in Cape Town. 

It was way back in 2012 he arrived from the Bloemfontein-based Cheetahs. He has gone on to establish himself as a club legend and a key figure for Scotland, winning more than 60 caps since qualifying on residency.

He now will become just the third player to bring up a double-century for Edinburgh, following in the footsteps of Chris Paterson and Allan Jacobsen. 

“To be part of Edinburgh Rugby for 12 years and get to 200 games, it’s definitely special," the 37-year-old Nel said. "To be in that club with Chris and Allan is awesome. I wouldn’t have thought I’d play 100 games, so to play 200 is special. To do it here in Cape Town will be awesome.” 

It’s a fitting location for a career landmark, given Nel’s rugby journey started in Cape Town in Western Province back in 2008. 

Just to add to the occasion, he will be packing down against fellow veteran prop, the 39-year-old Brok Harris. 

“We go back quite a while,” Nel said. “When I played U20s at Western Province, he was there and just breaking through to the Stormers. We were quite good friends. It will be awesome to go against him – two old men who will just take each other on.” 

Connacht Rugby Vs. Emirates Lions

Connacht lock Joe Joyce is well aware of what lies in store at the Galway Sportsground this weekend - both on and off the field. 

“Physically, you know, when you take on any South African team, you need to be ready and expect a really tough battle,” said the former Bristol forward. “This is the first game of the Lions’ tour away from home, so they will be buzzing. But we are as well, and each lad can’t wait to play in front of that green army. 

“The supporters have been savage in each game and give us that extra 10%, and that’s what we expect again - those supporters in the four corners of the ground to really get behind us.”

Providing the perspective from the Lions setup, scrum coach Julian Redelinghuys said:

“The vibe inside the camp is great. We tend to travel well, and the guys enjoy one another’s company. It’s also a nice opportunity to bond as a squad. Coming off a win against the Sharks two weeks ago also bodes well for team spirit.” 

Dragons RFC Vs. Vodacom Bulls

Dragons coach Dai Flanagan is calling on his team to be smart and clever as they welcome their South African guests to Rodney Parade.

“The Bulls are an unbelievable rugby team and one of the favorites for the league,” he said. “They've got size, speed, skill set - they're formidable. 

“If we try to go pound for pound with them, they will win. If we are clever in terms of where we go pound for pound, then when we have a chance. 

“Physically, like you have seen with Wales and the Welsh clubs, we have some work to do. 

“Realistically, we’re probably never going to have the same potential in our group as South African teams, and even Irish teams, in terms of size. 

“What we must be is smart, whether that's moving the ball, playing a little bit more condensed with shorter passes or widening the pitch, kicking less or kicking more. That's our job as coaches, to find solutions. 

“We can always just say they're bigger, they're quicker, they're stronger. Sometimes, you can't change that. Our job is to decide what we are going to be good at.” 

Wales forwards Aaron Wainwright and Elliott Dee, who featured in every Six Nations match, are named among the Dragons subs, along with the fit-again Ben Carter. 

The Bulls have some real stardust in their back line, with the likes of Willie Le Roux, Kurt-Lee Arendse and Canan Moodie, while the pack looks typically powerful, with Marcell Coetzee and Marco van Staden key men in the back row. 

Zebre Parma Vs. Leinster Rugby

League leading Leinster heads for Parma, with coach Jacques Nienaber saying their BKT URC fixtures and friendlies against Saracens and Bath during the Six Nations period were very beneficial. 

“We got well-tested in those matches,” said the man who guided the Springboks to World Cup glory in the autumn. “The games we have played without the international players have been a great test for the squad’s character.” 

Prop Ed Byrne will make his 100th appearance for the province, while Ciaran Frawley lines up at fullback as he returns to the side for the first time since featuring for Ireland in the Six Nations.

Zebre is skippered by No. 8 Giovanni Licata, with goal-kicking fly-half Geronimo Prisciantelli looking to add to his season tally of 77 league points.

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