Preview: SA teams aim to bounce back in URC

South African teams are set to face varied challenges as they head into the second round of Vodacom United Rugby Championship.

Inclement weather and artificial pitches will be part of the landscape this weekend as the Vodacom Bulls, Lions, Sharks and Stormers play their second matches on their inaugural URC tour.

Jake White, the Bulls’ director of rugby, will be returning to Galway in Ireland, where the Springboks – under his coaching – played a warm-up match prior to the Rugby World Cup in 2007.

On that day, the Boks had to work hard to beat Connacht by 18-3, and White would have warned his charges to be ready for tough weather conditions, with rain and strong winds a distinct possibility at The Sportsground in Galway on what looks to be a cold Friday night.

Arno Botha – who knows what to expect from the conditions in Europe after a stint with Munster – is confident that the Bulls will improve after their defeat by Leinster this past weekend.

“We can only get better from here, we just need to make the step up,” said the Bulls loose forward.

“They say that playing in Galway is like playing in Kimberley, but totally different. It’s not going to be dry and hot, but it’s going to be cold and wet. We know they will just keep coming at us, and it will be a nice battle. It will be wet and we will have to be more clinical.”

And for the one successful South African team from the opening round, the Lions, there’s going to be a necessary tweak to game strategy. They move from Italy to the different challenge of playing in Wales as they face two-time PRO Rugby champions Scarlets on Friday night.

The Welsh outfit have a number of hardened veterans on their books, such as British & Irish Lions players Ken Owens, Wyn Jones, Gareth Davies, Liam Williams and Leigh Halfpenny, while their captain for the season is Jonathan Davies, who boasts close to 100 Test caps for Wales and the Lions.

Former Springbok lock Albert van den Berg, nowadays one of the Lions assistant coaches, said his side can prepare to face a well-balanced opponent on Friday.

“They’ve got a very good set-piece attack, they’ve got a good backline and they’ve got a few (B&I) Lions players among their ranks,” said Van den Berg.

On Saturday afternoon, the Sharks will be the first South African team to play a URC game on a 4G artificial surface as they travel to Scotland to face the Glasgow Warriors at Scotstoun Stadium.

Hard-running wing Yaw Penxe knows what to expect as he played on the 4G surface before with the Southern Kings in the PRO14, and he said that the Durbanites can expect a different experience in Glasgow, with the artificial surface likely to produce a quicker game.

“The ball does travel quite a bit faster, and if it goes to ground won’t stick like on grass,” said Penxe.

“Us as players will have to run a bit more and the game will be a bit faster as well. The ball really races when you let it bounce.”

Sharks defence coach John McFarland will have his work cut out for him this weekend against the Scots, who like to play an attacking brand of rugby.

“The two Scottish teams will bring a style that will be distinctively different from what we will experience playing against the other teams as they have been influenced by Scotland coach Gregor Townsend, who was of course attack coach of the British & Irish Lions,” said McFarland, a former Bok assistant coach.

The Stormers will bring the curtain down on the second round for the South African teams when they face Munster in Limerick on Saturday evening, where adverse weather conditions are also predicted.

Former Blitzbok star Ruhan Nel said the challenge of playing against such varied and different styles and influences each week is exciting, but for him it’s not entirely new as he faced a lot of variation in terms of opponents in the HSBC World Rugby Sevens series.

“These are the games you want to play, you want to experience what it is like to play against the Ireland style and then the next week you are playing against a Scottish team, and it reminds me a lot of sevens,” said Nel.

“In sevens you can play against England in one game and then in the next against Fiji. You’ve got to be adaptable and adjust quickly, and it will be the same in this competition.”

Match information:

Connacht vs Vodacom Bulls
Date: Friday, 1 October
Venue: The Sportsground, Galway (Ireland)
SA time: 8:35pm
Referee: Ben Blain
TV: SuperSport

Scarlets vs Lions
Date: Friday, 1 October
Venue: Parc Y Scarlets, Llanelli (Wales)
SA time: 8:35pm
Referee: Andrea Piardi
TV: SuperSport

Glasgow Warriors vs Sharks
Date: Saturday, 2 October
Venue: Scotstoun Stadium, Glasgow (Scotland)
SA time: 4pm
Referee: Ben Whitehouse
TV: SuperSport

Munster vs Stormers
Date: Saturday, 2 October
Venue: Thomond Park, Limerick (Ireland)
SA time: 8:35pm
Referee: Andrew Brace
TV: SuperSport

Post by

Craig Lewis