This is Round 16 of the 2022-23 URC season. The season only lasts for 18 rounds, so teams have a maximum of 15 more points they can pick up as they chase a playoff berth. Three of four South African teams are well placed, with the Lions having a ton of work to do.
Here is a look at some of this week’s games with odds from BetXchange.
Leinster VS Stormers – RDS Arena, Dublin
Starting out with a banger here as Leinster – they of 15 wins out of 15 and 12 points clear at the top of the log – take on second-placed Stormers in Dublin.
The Irish team is a machine, able to rotate in players from their second string and still win most URC and European clashes. Stormers would love to pick up something from this one, with second place having a better quarterfinal matchup and Ulster breathing down their neck for that spot.
Stomers will have returning Springboks Steven Kitshoff, Frans Malherbe, and Damian Willemse back in their starting XV. At the same time, Leinster is weaker than normal, with some key internationals missing after Ireland’s exertions in winning the Six Nations Grand Slam. Jonny Sexton is out with a groin injury, while the trio of Garry Ringrose, Caelan Doris, and Hugo Keenan are all in concussion protocol and won’t make the clash.
The injuries are a massive concern against a team as good as the Stormers. I think the South African side covers and an outright win feels more than possible.
Benetton Treviso VS Lions – Stadio Monigo, Treviso
It isn’t quite the last chance saloon for the Lions, but it is getting close. They are in 11th place in a league where the top eight make the playoffs, six points behind eighth-place Connact. A win over ninth-placed Benetton would be massive, both because it would be points in their pocket and deny the Italians their own points.
The Lions have actually won two on the bounce, but they don’t travel as well as the other South African sides. Beneton picked up a win last time out against Ospreys, and they will look to their offloading game as this is a team at its best when playing free-flowing rugby. I like the Lions to cover. The Italians don’t have exceptional strength in depth and have many players trying to back up after the Six Nations.
Scarlets VS Sharks – Parc y Scarlets, Llanelli
The Sharks are in seventh with 41 points, and they will be targeting this game against the 4th placed Scarlets as one they should win to cement their top-eight hopes.
Scarlets have played much better as of late, but they did lose to Munster in a shootout the last time they played. The Sharks lineup shows how much they are focusing on this match, loading up on Springboks with Siya Kolisi, Eben Etzebeth, and the rest of the crew will be deployed. Scarlets will have to rest Six Nations guys like Ken Owens and Wyn Jones, all of which makes me think that the Sharks win this by 10+ points.
Ulster VS Blue Bulls – Kingspan Stadium, Belfast
Third-placed Ulster hosts the sixth-placed Blue Bulls in Belfast in a pivotal game for the visitors. They would love to catch fourth-placed Edinburgh and finish in the top four, a tea they are currently eight points behind. Ulster is the Irish province that continually punches above its weight, but they will be without some Six Nations players for this contest.
They are on different form streaks – albeit during a rest period for Springboks – with Ulster having won two in a row and the Bulls dropping their last two matches. The Bulls have lost five of their last six in the URC and have just two wins outside South Africa all season. This makes me lean towards the hosts, but there could be an upset depending on how many first-teamers they are missing.