With Europe dominating the weekend, some exciting URC games may have gone under the radar. Saturday saw two south African clashes, with an all Welsh clash on Saturday rounding off the weekend. They were exciting games as the URC gets closer to the business end of the season.
Stormers vs Bulls
Two of the south African teams still hunting for the top eight positions, it was a battle between the Stormers and the Bulls which kicked off the weekend.
The home side looked the favourite coming into the match. The Stormers came into the game off the back of a four game win streak, with impressive wins against Ospreys and Ulster across the previous two weeks. A big reason for that is the team excellent defence, punctuated by all of the stars across the team.
Internationals Steven Kitshoff, Frans Malherbe, Herschel Jantjies and Damian Willemse have all been playing excellently and all featured in the teams 23 man squad for their game against the Bulls. The Bulls were also looking good, currently sitting in eighth.
The Bulls team featured a variety of internationals as well. Marcell Coetzee and Cornal Hendricks were the two key men for the Bulls heading into this weekend as they were looking to pull off a huge win against their domestic rivals.
The two teams battled it out for the first 15 minutes, but neither team was really able to get a foot hold in the game. This was until Manie Libbok’s 15th-minute penalty put the Bulls up three points to take an impressive lead away from home.
In pretty much perfect conditions, the Stormers began to pile the pressure on in the Bulls 22. A penalty for going off feat delayed their attack, but the Stormers levelled the game up 11 minutes after Libbok’s penalty, when Chris Smith slotted one through from 40 metres out.
Despite both teams moving the ball well, points came very hard to come by. From just inside their own half, the Stormers floated the ball wide brilliantly thanks to some big carries from Deon Fourie and Seabelo Senatla. Continuing with the high intensity attack, Hacjivah Dayimani showed his quick feet to break through the Bulls line, scoring under the posts to allow his Stormers side to take a 10-3 lead into the break.
Some good work from the Bulls after 11 minutes into the second half put through Canan Moodie in the corner to give the Bulls an emphatic reply. The conversiom levelled the game up. But the parity only lasted for four minutes, with the Stormers deciding to take the three points when they earned a penalty in front of the posts.
A long range penalty from Libbok increased the lead to six points. The Stormers continued to put the pressure on, pressing the Bulls into some tough defence. Despite a clearing penalty, the Stormers continued attacking, but were struggling to break through the Bulls 22. So Damian Willemse decided to take the three points when he nailed a drop goal with nine minutes remaining.
But the lead was quickly put in jeopardy. A brilliant catch and run from Kurt-Lee Ardense was only stopped by a very high tackle from try scorer Dayimani. Ruan Norjte scored just second later, but Dayimani was still shown the yellow card for the tackle, meaning the Stormers had to hold onto their two point lead with 14 men for the final seven minutes.
But the Stormers showed their quality in the final minutes, holding the Bulls in their own half for most of the final few minutes. The Stormers held on an kicked into touch to end the match.
It leaves the Stormers in fifth on the same points as fourth placed Munster, putting them in a good position to push for a home quarter final. For the Bulls, it is a tough two point loss for the team who may see their quarter final place put under pressure from the Scarlets who have a game in hand.
Sharks vs Lions
The other all South African affair was between the high flying Sharks and the struggling Lions. The Sharks came into the game in some mixed form in the URC. A huge win over the Dragons helped to forget a disappointing loss to Edinburgh the week after. Despite this, the Sharks have still been the best South African team in the URC this season and look very likely to get a quarter final place.
This season has been a dissaponting one for the Lions. Ivan van Rooyen’s team have been in some excellent form, winning their last four games including top eight rivals Edinburgh and Munster over the last month. Their stern defence and free flowing attack have produced some brilliant defence and they looked strong going into this game.
The team were being led by Emmanuel and Vincent Tshituka over the last few weeks, with both starting this game. But the team were still missing a lot of former internationals, with the Lions still without Jamba Ulengo, Willem Alberts and Jaco Kriel for this weekends game.
The home team were able to call on a lot of South Africa’s world cup winning team. Bongi Mbonambi, Siya Kolisi, Lukhanyo Am and Makazole Mapimpi were all available for selection and looked to make a big impact as the game began.
It looked the case early on, with the Sharks driving the ball down the field and parking themselves inside the away teams 22 just six minutes in. Quick ball produced gaps and Gerbrandt Grobler crossed over for the teams first score of the game. It was a terrible start for the Lions, as Jannie du Plessis was given a yellow card for an off the ball shoulder charge on Reniel Hugo. It was an uneccassary hit and produced more gaps in the Lions defence.
Just five minutes after the first try and still a man down, the Lions conceded again when a dominant lineout drive led to a brilliant kick through from Jaden Hendrikse eventually resulted in Phepsi Buthelezi for the try. Buthelezi had one of his best games for the Sharks, looking like another brilliant academy product.
The Lions finally got on the board after 21 minutes thanks to a Jordan Hendrikse penalty, but it was quickly replied by a Curwin Bosch penalty. The heavy footed conditions slowed down the tempo of the game, with both teams unable to sustain attacks. And the score remained 17-3 heading into the half.
Bosch continued to extend the Sharks lead in the beginning for the second half with an early penalty as they almost scored but Henco Venter was held up over the line. But in the last quarter of the game, the scoring started to flow. The Sharks dominance in the packs helped to drive a maul over from 20 metres, with Mbonambi scoring thanks to the maul.
More pressure allowed substitute Sikhumbuzo Notshe to score which sealed the bonus points for the Sharks. The Sharks were just able to master the conditions much better on the day and a late consolation try from Henco van Wyk was too little too late for the Lions. When the clock turned red, the Sharks ran out 37-10 victors, an emphatic victory.
It puts the Sharks in a great position heading into the last couple months of the season. The team looks set for a quarter final spot and their game against table topping Leister in couple weeks will gives the opportunity for a statement of intent. The Bulls season is far from over, but they would need a colossal effort to get close to the quarter final spots now.
Cardiff Rugby vs Scarlets
Welsh domestic rugby has been a pretty good indication of why the national team dropped from first to fourth in the Six Nations this year. There is a good chance that when we reach the quarter final stage, there won’t be a Welsh team present. But the last game on Saturday pitted two Welsh teams against each other, without the squad restrictions of the Six Nations.
In a tough season for Cardiff, they faced more tough news this week before the game. Star winger Josh Adams has been side-lined for a month due to a knee injury. It is another Welsh international that Cardiff were missing with Dillon Lewis, James Ratti and James Botham all ruled out. But the team were bolstered by the returns of Welsh duo Shane Lewis-Hughes and Owen Lane.
The Scarlets made five changes heading into the game, a week after the Scarlets defeated Cardiff 35-20. Johnathan Davies is the key addition, with Wyn Jones, Gareth Davies and Johnny McNicholl all starting. But the Scarlets week was not without injury. The trio of Leigh Halfpenny, Scott Williams and Ken Owens were all ruled out for the rest of the season.
With the Scarlets winning against Cardiff at home last week, they were surely the favourites for this game. Liam Williams particularly wanted a good performance, as he is joining Cardiff for next season.
But it was a very poor start for Williams team. Theo Cabango continued his brilliant try scoring form as he embarrassed Johnn McNicholl to give Cardiff the lead with the conversion added.
After eleven minutes they were in again, this time down the right wing. Quick ball and excellent passing put through Lloyd Williams to score. It was some brilliant footwork from Owen Lane that put in Williams and the conversion gave Cardiff an impressive 14-0 lead after just 13 minutes. The perfect start for the home side and they were looking to build on this momentum.
Cardiff continued to move the ball quickly and looked likely to score again. But Jarrod Evans missed a penalty as the 30 minute mark passed. Not taking advantage allowed the Scarlets to grow into the game. They should have scored off the back of a quick tap penalty, but Sione Kalamfoni dropped the ball over the line.
But the Scarletts were back on the attack quickly. A line break from Johnathan Davies put Cardiff on the back foot as the clock turned red. After working through the phases, Aaron Shingler powered over to give Scarlets their first points of the game just before half time. A Sam Costelow conversion made the score 14-7 at half time.
Cardiff were hoping to build on their first half lead, but it was the Scarlets putting the pressure on to begin the second half. Great strong running from Tom Rogers put in Liam Williams for the score, the conversion tying the game up with most of the second half still to play.
Things went from bad to worse for Cardiff, with Jarrod Evans shown a yellow card for a passive shoulder tackle ten minutes into the second half. The Scarlets took advantage of this, powering their maul over the line which was eventually given as a penalty try. Seb Davies was sin binned for his involvement in conceding the penalty try.
With just 13 men on the pitch, Cardiff couldn’t hold the Scarlets out. Dan Davis powered over from close range as the Scarlets took a 28-14 lead into the last ten minutes of the game.
But the best Welsh team showed their quality to finish the game very strong. Liam Williams powered through the Cardiff defence to walk in for his second try and the teams fifth. Cardiff still hoped to get something out of the game, but some poorly executed passing in their own 22 allowed Rodgers to walk in for an easy try.
Things were going Cardiff’s way and it allowed Liam Williams to put in Johnathan Davies for the Scarlets seventh try of the afternoon. It put the lid on an emphatic victory away from home for the Scarlets, with the loss being pretty much exactly how Cardiff’s season has gone.
The win means the Scarlets are now only six points behind the eighth placed Bulls for the final spot in the playoffs. With a gam in hand, they have a real shot at squeezing into the top eight but have some big games against the Dragons and the Ospreys in the next few weeks.
For the home side, their playoff hopes are pretty much done with the team currently sitting 20 points behind the Bulls. With some big additions coming in the summer, Cardiff will just be looking to finish the season in good form, with their focus now going into their European Challenge cup game against Saracens next Sunday.