Covid-19 is dominating the sporting landscape again. The always thrilling Irish derby on boxing day between Leinster and Munster is off – sadly as this is one of the biggest treats on the Irish sporting calendar – but there are matches still on at this point. The URC is doing everything it can to get the season played, with this round also including the game between the Stormers and the Lions back in early December and the clash between the Bulls and the Sharks scheduled for the middle of February.
Here is a look at three of the remaining matches to be played over Christmas weekend.
Zebre Parma VS Benetton – Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi, Parma
As recently as January, Zebre were landing blows in the battle for supermacy in Italian rugby. They beat Benetton in back-to-back matches as they ooint, but since then it has been the visitors here that have flourished. Benetton has won two straight against Zebre, but it was their win in the Rainbow Cup – the biggest cingle achievment in the history of the sport in Italy – that caught the headlines.
Zebre change five from their Challenge Cup defeat at the hands of Toulon, with Giulio Bisegni coming in at 13 where he replaces Erich Cronje and takes over the role of captain. Changes in the back row see Maxime Mbanda and Giovanni Licata back in the side. Benetton also make changes after a defeat in Europe (to Gloucester) Backline changes include the returns of Monty Ioane, Ignacio Brex, and Luca Sperandio. Expect Benetto to continue their run of wins in this fixture and to cover the -5.5 point spread.
Ulster VS Connacht – Kingspan Stadium, Belfast
Ulster will have to be ready for a dangerous Connacht team in the all-Irish derby on Boxing Day. Connacht is nine points behind third-placed Ulster in the table, but they did beat their rivals at the Aviva Stadium back in October. Ulster will be without the inspirational Iain Henderson through injury, with Stuart McCloskey also missing out. One thing to note is that Connacht has yet to win away from home this season as they have lost four from four when not on their own patch. They came close to being the first side to take down the Leicester Tigers in any competition this season last time out, but it feels like Ulster should have little problem covering the spread of five points here.
Glasgow Warriors VS Edinburgh – Scotstoun Stadium, Glasgow
It is sad that this Boxing Day derby will be held without fans thanks to Covid restrictions imposed by the Scottish government. This bodes well for a traveling Edinburgh team that won’t have to deal with a hostile home crowd, especially as Edinburgh is in pretty good form right now. Both come into this off of the back of impressive European wins, with Glasgow upsetting Exeter last weekend at this very venue and Edinburgh pulled off a remarkable 21-18 victory against an always-dangerous Saracens side.
It is worth noting that Edinburgh is undefeated in six matches away from home across all competitions so far this season, a record just as impressive as the one that Glasgow has at home. Take the visitors plus a healthy 5.5 points as the much-lauded home-field advantage of Scotstoun is less valuable without fans.