United Rugby Championship

URC Round Two Preview And Predictions, Champions Return, Upset Incoming

URC Round Two Preview And Predictions, Champions Return, Upset Incoming

The United Rugby Championship 2022, Round 2 Preview and Predictions. Champions Return, Upsets Income, Italians On The Rise.

Sep 23, 2022
URC Round Two Preview And Predictions, Champions Return, Upset Incoming

World Rugby’s most international club league got off to a bang in round one 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 as 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 round one bye. John Dobson’s side kick off their title defence in the university town of Stellenbosch in front of what should be a raucous crowd. First up for the champions are Irish side Connacht who will be looking to bounce back following a tough opening round defeat to local rivals Ulster.

 

So without further ado let’s get to it with your week two preview 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 is affectionately 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 deserve a pat on the back for taking their team to what should be a sold-out stadium with an electric atmosphere to open up their title defence.



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 tuteledge 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 Director of Rugby with the Sharks 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 organisation and the 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 one should give a good indication into his early influence on the Sharks.



Locked And Loaded For Irish Giants

Irish powerhouse Leinster enter round two having scrapped through round one by the skin of their 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 centre 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 who are riding high following their thumping of Glasgow in round one. All-in-all the Leinster 23 for this weekend includes 20 international players as they look to lay down a marker following their disappointing ending to last season. Joining their countrymen in selecting a significantly stronger side this week are two-time European Champions Munster who welcome back several of their Irish internationals. Club captain Peter O’Mahony returns to the starting line-up as does Keith Earls, Craig Casey and Dave Kilcoyne whilst 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 one, Ulster once again look to be real a threat for the title once again this season. Now a well-rounded squad under Dan McFarland, Ireland’s northern province travel to Wales where they come against one of their former assistant coaches turned Scarlets head coach Dwayne Peel. Whilst there are narratives galore 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 schoolboy level, Sexton is silly quick. Whilst representing Bangor Grammar School, Sexton’s mind-boggling numbers of 10.43 for the 100m and 20.69 for the 200m mean he is potentially the fastest player in the league. At 6’2” and 207lbs 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 got so bad that many Six Nations fans called for their removal from the tournament for the integrity of the tournament. 2022 has slightly adjusted that narrative, heading to Cardiff and beating Wales in the Six Nations released a pressure valbe. Sure, the result was important, but it was the performance that was so striking. Italy were unincumbered by what went before them, instead they were daring and took it to their 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 one, Benetton proved that Italian Rugby is on the rise in all areas, their victory over Glasgow was emphatic. Next up Zebre 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. Now 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 indeed to get the weekend’s action underway. On paper the Sharks are the more talented side but as Zebre showed against Leinster they are not push overs 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 were sublime in week one. 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 their account on a positive note. Cardiff are without their 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 6.

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 one before rebounding with big second half performances. Overall Ulster have a better squad which gives them the ability to maintain or get stronger when calling on their bench. Ulster by 3.

Bulls vs Edinburgh

Two big winners from round one square off in Pretoria in an early line in the sand game. Rightly the Bulls enter the game as home favourites 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 still possess a potent side. Last season’s breakout star was undoubtedly number eight Evan Roos who has returned to the Stormers following his time with the national side. Connacht travel to Cape Town having been roundly beaten by Ulster in round one. 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 one but neither were they woeful. Both sides have some great young talent coming through in particular in the flyhalf berth. 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 one losses for both makes getting a result crucial. Munster are by far and away the better side, take into account the return of their Irish stars and it is hard to argue for anything but a Munster win. Former Munster flyhalf 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