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URC Round 2 Preview And Predictions: Champions Return, Upset Incoming

URC Round 2 Preview And Predictions: Champions Return, Upset Incoming

World Rugby’s most international club league started strong, as top talent from South Africa, Ireland, Wales, Scotland and Italy did battle. What's next?

Sep 23, 2022 by RugbyPass
URC Round 2 Preview And Predictions: Champions Return, Upset Incoming

World Rugby’s most international club league got off to a bang in Round 1, as the finest talent from South Africa, Ireland, Wales, Scotland and Italy did battle.

Across the seven fixtures, there were a number of notable results. Several clubs put their hands up as title contenders.

Speaking of title contenders, last year’s champions, the Stormers, return for the first time this season following their bye in Round 1. 

John Dobson’s side kicks off its title defense in the university town of Stellenbosch in front of what should be a raucous crowd. 

First up for the champions is Irish side Connacht, which will be looking to bounce back following a tough opening-round loss to local rival Ulster.

So, without further ado, let’s get to it with your Week 2 previews and predictions.

Marketing Masterclass By The Champions

As touched upon, the defending champions will not be running out on their familiar patch of the giant Cape Town Stadium. Instead, they will be taking the action on the road to a place where Rugby is a religion. 

Stellenbosch University and the famous Danie Craven Stadium is smack bang in rugby heartland in an area that has produced some of the world’s very finest rugby talent. 

Stellies, as it affectionately is known, is one of South Africa’s premier universities, with an immensely strong rugby program and support base. 

The marketing department at Western Province Rugby deserves a pat on the back for taking its team to what should be a sold-out stadium with an electric atmosphere to open up their title defense.

The Powell Effect 

Former South African 7s head coach Neil Powell has taken the plunge into the XV a side game. 

Powell was a highly talented sevens player, before transitioning into the world of coaching with the Blitzbokke (South Africa’s 7s team). Under Powell’s tutelage, the Blitzbokke were immensely successful, winning a World Series, Olympic medals and generally being one of the best teams in the world. 

Powell now moves into the role as Sharks Director of Rugby and will work alongside head coach Sean Everitt in guiding what is one of the most talented sides in the league.

A hallmark of Powell’s teams was their incredible defensive organization and ability to counterattack with turnover ball. 

As touched on, this Sharks side is not lacking in the talent department but couldn’t quite get the job done last season when it mattered. Round 1 should give a good indication into his early influence on the Sharks.

Locked And Loaded For Irish Giants

Irish powerhouse, Leinster, enters Round 2 having scrapped through Round 1 by the skin of its teeth away to Italian side Zebre. 

Missing a large number of front-line players due to a return-to-play system for Irish international players, Leinster played out a very entertaining fixture with Zebre. 

That all changes this weekend as they welcome back a number of their international stars, most notably the center combination of Robbie Henshaw and captain Garry Ringrose. 

Playing at home for the first time this season, Leo Cullen’s men once again face Italian opposition, this time it is Benetton Treviso, which is riding high following its thumping of Glasgow in Round 1. 

All in all, the Leinster 23 for this weekend includes 20 international players, and the group looks to lay down a marker following a disappointing ending to last season. 

Joining their countrymen in selecting a significantly stronger side this week is two-time European champions Munster, which welcomes back several Irish internationals. 

Club captain Peter O’Mahony returns to the starting lineup, as does Keith Earls, Craig Casey and Dave Kilcoyne, while on the bench, Joey Carbery and Tadhg Beirne should offer some real impetus when they enter the fray. 

Lightening Quick Track Star To Make His Mark

Arguably the most impressive side in Round 1, Ulster looks to be a real threat for the title once again this season. 

Now a well-rounded squad under Dan McFarland, Ireland’s northern province travels to Wales, where it comes against one of its former assistant coaches turned Scarlets head coach Dwayne Peel. 

While there are narratives to follow, one that has gone under the radar is the lightening quick Aaron Sexton, who has been named at wing for Ulster. 

An all-Ireland record holder in the 100m and 200m sprints at the schoolboy level, Sexton is silly quick. 

While representing Bangor Grammar School, Sexton’s mind-boggling numbers of 10.43 for the 100m and 20.69 for the 200m mean he potentially is the fastest player in the league. 

At 6-foot-2 and 207 pounds, he is no shrinking violet and looks to be getting set to have a breakout season just in time for the 2023 World Cup.

Italian Momentum Growing 

For far too long, Italian Rugby has been in the doldrums. Not winning a game in the Six Nations for as long as it takes to complete both high school and a three-year college degree, the Azzuri had become somewhat of a laughingstock. 

Things had gotten so bad that many Six Nations fans called for their removal from the tournament for the integrity of the tournament. 

This year has slightly adjusted that narrative, as heading to Cardiff and beating Wales in the Six Nations released a pressure valve. 

Sure, the result was important, but it was the performance that was so striking. 

Italy was unincumbered by what went before it. Instead, the team was daring and took it to its much-fancied opponents. 

A 22-21 Italian victory in Cardiff with a squad brimming with young attacking talent, many of whom will go on to be mainstays for the next decade, was exactly what the Azzuri needed. 

Kicking off Round 1, Benetton proved Italian Rugby is on the rise in all areas, and a victory over Glasgow was emphatic. 

Next up, Zebre, which pushed Leinster to the brink, and had it not been for two missed conversions, they would’ve ended all square with one of Europe’s very best. 

The URC season is a long one, and each week presents a different challenge, but one thing would appear clear - the Italians are building and should be more competitive this season.

Match Predictions 

Zebre Vs. Sharks

A very interesting one to get the weekend’s action underway. 

On paper, the Sharks are the more talented side, but as Zebre showed against Leinster, it isn't a pushovers this season. 

Like the Stormers this will be the Sharks first game of the season having been on a bye for round one of the competition. Taking into account ring rust and travel, the Sharks might start slowly in this one but their quality will see them scrape home. Sharks by 1!

Leinster Vs. Benetton

As touched on above, Benetton was sublime in Week 1. 

Also touched on above, is the return of some big names for Leinster. 

The Royal Dublin Society is a tough place for any visiting team to go and win at the best of times, this Leinster team look like they want blood in what looks set to be senior coach Stuart Lancaster’s last season. Leinster by 18.

Glasgow Warriors Vs. Cardiff Blues

Brutally bad, that’s the only way to describe Franco Smith’s debut as Glasgow’s head coach. 

Cardiff on the other hand, beat Munster to open its account on a positive note. 

Cardiff is without its two-star men in Liam Williams (injury) and Taulupre Faletau (game-time management) this week. A tough one to call but Glasgow need a big response at home. Glasgow by six.

Scarlets Vs. Ulster

Two quality sides will take the field at Parc Y Scarlets on Saturday in one of the more interesting match ups of the round. 

Both sides started rather slowly in Round 1, before rebounding with big second-half performances. 

Overall, Ulster have a better squad, which gives it the ability to maintain or get stronger when calling on the bench. Ulster by three.

Bulls Vs. Edinburgh

Two big winners from Round 1 square off in Pretoria in an early line-in-the-sand game. 

Rightly, the Bulls enter the game as home favorites, despite missing a number of key players, who remain with the Springbok camp ahead of the final Rugby Championship fixture. 

In an exciting development, the highly rated but rather star-crossed Johan Goosen, returns for the Bulls at fullback. 

This season is make-or-break for Goosen, whose career has gone something like this - school prodigy - Springbok - big-money contract in France - early retirement - controversial return to South Africa - back to France - finally at the Bulls. 

At his best, he is one of the very best players in the world, and he will be looking to remind the Springbok selectors of this fact by started the season on a strong note. Bulls by 15.

Stormers Vs. Connacht

The champions' return brings with it much anticipation. 

Can Dobson’s side back it up, or were they merely a flash in the pan?

Still without a number of Springbok players, the Stormers possess a potent side. 

Last season’s breakout star undoubtedly was No. 8 Evan Roos, who has returned to the Stormers following his time with the national side. 

Connacht travels to Cape Town having been roundly beaten by Ulster in Round 1. Head coach Andy Friend has recalled his four Irish stars in Finlay Bealham, Bundee Aki, Mack Hansen and Cian Prendergast. Despite all indications to the contrary this has the feel of an upset waiting to happen. Connacht by 2.

Ospreys Vs. Lions

An interesting battle awaits in this one. 

Neither side set the world alight in Round 1, they also weren't woeful. 

Both sides have some great young talent coming through, in particular, in the fly-half berth. 

The Ospreys look to be the more composed of the two at this stage in the season. Ospreys by 10. 

Dragons Vs. Munster

This one has the potential to get ugly quickly. Round 1 losses for both makes getting a result crucial. 

Munster is far and away the better side, plus taking into account the return of their Irish stars, and it is hard to argue for anything but a Munster win. 

Former Munster fly-half JJ Hanrahan gets to play against his old side in what will be an interesting duel with the young Ben Healy. Munster by 20.

Written by Philip Bendon