Round 2 of the United Rugby Championship sees the Bulls, Lions and Hollywoodbets Sharks all on tour up north. Shaun Goosen previews all of the action.
Saturday 28 October
Ospreys 1/10 | Draw 28/1 | Zebre 5/1
Ospreys fell eight points short in Connacht last week but crucially picked up a bonus point. Saturday’s clash with Zebra is the first of three successive home matches and now which they should be confident of winning given their playoff ambitions this season. With a player like Justin Tipuric at their disposal, they should be too good.
Zebre came within four of knocking over Ulster at the Sergio Lanfranchi but ultimately came up short again. Their two losing bonus points will stand them in good stead as their campaign continues though, and while they’re bound to break their losing streak sooner rather than later, this one in Swansea may be a step too far.
Verdict: Zebre (+13.5) 17/20
This is a pretty big handicap. Back Zebre on the plus here.
Connacht 7/10 | Draw 20/1 | Glasgow 23/20
Connacht welcome Glasgow to the Sportsground in one of the games of the weekend. Both outfits got off to solid wins in round one with a Caolin Blade hat-trick powering the men from Galway to a 34-26 win over Ospreys. It’s expected to be a typically rainy day on Saturday which will as ever play into the Irish club’s hands.
Although the Warriors produced a great showing to thump Leinster 43-25 at the Scotstoun last week, the tricky conditions will slightly favour the hosts this weekend. They could be in for a bright season but may just fall short here.
Verdict: Glasgow (+3.5) 4/9
In what should be the tightest of matches, I’m backing the Scots to keep within a narrow handicap.
Stormers 1/66| Draw 50/1 | Scarlets 9/1
The Stormers claimed a narrow 35-33 first-round win over the Lions in Joburg in a match that nearly saw the Pride complete a remarkable comeback. John Dobson’s men are back at home this week however and should be in for a much more straightforward contest given what we saw from Dwayne Peel’s boys at Loftus.
Altitude is always a factor for touring sides, but the Scarlets’ 42-point loss to the Bulls is still a tough one to take. They’ll be more competitive on the coast but won’t genuinely trouble the 2021 champions.
Verdict: Scarlets (+24.5) 17/20
The Stormers will win this but it’s always tough looking past such big handicaps. Speculative play on the Welsh side keeping within the ‘cap.
Leinster 1/12| Draw 33/1 | Hollywoodbets Sharks 11/2
Leinster fell to a comprehensive defeat in Glasgow and will be more motivated than ever this week – which could spell bad news for the visitors. Leo Cullen’s inexperienced side will surely show more bite at home here given their lofty aspirations this season.
The Hollywoodbets Sharks were pretty toothless themselves in their 21-34 loss to Munster in Limerick. They had their moments on attack and should only improve going forward but John Plumtree’s charges don’t look likely to usurp the Leinstermen in Dublin this early on in his tenure.
Verdict: Sharks (+17.5) 17/20
Another big handicap here. As such, I’m on the Sharks to put in an improved performance and remain within 17.5 points.
Edinburgh 21/100 | Draw 28/1 | Lions 16/5
Edinburgh earned a 22-17 win over Dragons in Newport and will bank on home-ground advantage to outdo the Lions on Saturday. Mike Blair’s outfit are always a force to be reckoned with at home and it’s difficult to see the Lions getting over the line in the Scottish capital.
Ivan van Rooyen’s men staged a valiant fightback against the Stormers a week ago, but it was ultimately too little too late as they succumbed to a two-point defeat. They are already showing signs of improvement after what was a challenging campaign last time out but could fall short here.
Verdict: Lions (+11.5) 3/4
Yet another big handicap, another plus play.
Sunday 29 October
Benetton 5/4 | Draw 20/1 | Munster 5/8
Benetton were mighty good in their 23-22 win in Cardiff last week and will seemingly continue to punch above their weight this season with an eye on qualifying for the knockouts. The Italian outfit fell agonisingly short of that mark last time out and will surely inch their way closer this term.
They do face the daunting task of facing the defending champions here though, albeit at home. Munster eased past the Sharks last week and should fins themselves up against more of a challenge here, though they will get the win in the end.
Verdict: Munster (-3.5) 4/5
I’m on Munster to clear the handicap.
Dragons 1/1 | Draw 22/1 | Cardiff 4/5
Dragons and Cardiff face off here in the tightest game of the round to call. Neither side won last week and the result of this one will play a big role in determining the final makeup of the Welsh Shield come season’s end.
It’ll be a close call but Dragons’ home support could lift them here.
Verdict: Dragons 1/1
One to avoid, perhaps. Toss a coin.
Ulster 42/100 | Draw 20/1 | Bulls 9/5
Ulster, four-point winners at Zebre, need a mighty forward performance to match the Bulls in Belfast. Forecasted wet conditions provide Dan McFarland’s side with the advantage, and that should be enough to claim a slender win.
The Bulls looked devastating on the high veld against Scarlets but are in for a completely different challenge here. Their forward power will be important as ever but it’ll be a big ask to bag the win.
Verdict: Bulls (+6.5) 4/5
The Bulls look a class outfit and should very much remain within the ‘cap.