SA top teams ready for this year’s URC matches

After seven rounds of the Vodacom United Rugby Championship (URC), it is increasingly beginning to look like fans are in for a treat in the third edition of the exciting tournament.

There has been some breathtaking rugby on display even at such an early stage of the competition, indicating that this season could very well be the most competitive yet.

Close games have been very much the order of the day thus far in the URC season, with most of the games played producing losing bonus points.

The global rugby league pits 16 teams from five powerhouse nations against each other to compete across two hemispheres in a bid to become the URC champ.

The URC is made up of four teams from Ireland, four from South Africa, four from Wales, two from Italy and two from Scotland.

After 18 games, the top eight teams will qualify for the quarterfinals, followed by semifinals and a final, with teams seeded from 1 to 8 and receiving home advantage
according to their seeding for these fixtures.

This is a league that features the world’s best players and that makes many champions but each season crowns only one.

South Africa’s representatives are the DHL Stormers – inaugural champions and last season’s losing finalists – as well as the Emirates Lions, Hollywoodbets Sharks and
Vodacom Bulls.

Sunday World looks at how these Mzansi teams have fared so far and puts the spotlight on some of the key players after round seven.

 

The DHL Stormers:

The men from the Western Cape will have been extremely disappointed that they could not make it back-to-back titles last season following a narrow defeat to Munster in the final.

The Stormers were the inaugural champions of the URC in the 2021-22 season, where they defeated compatriots the Vodacom Bulls in Cape Town to etch their name in history.


John Dobson’s men have not necessarily started the current campaign like a house on fire but are slowly getting there and will be eager to reclaim their crown.

The return of Springboks’ Manie Libbok, Evan Roos, Deon Fourie and Damian Willemse will be a big boost going forward as the Cape side looks to turn up the heat.

 

Vodacom Bulls:

The Tshwane side’s best showing in the URC was the second place finish it was forced to settle for in the season before last, where it lost to the Stormers in the final.

Last season, Jake White’s men were unable to reach the final, ending their campaign with a final eight finish in a what was a more challenging season.

They have arguably been the better of the Mzansi teams so far this season and look to go one better than their best showing in the inaugural campaign in 2021-22. The arrival of Springboks fullback Willie le Roux to add experience to a team that already has exciting stars such as Canan Moodie and Kurt-Lee Arendse could prove key for the Bulls.

 

Emirates Lions:

The Johannesburg side has previously been outplayed in this competition but it is hoping to go on a run at some point this season that will see it join the big boys at the top of the standings.

Ivan van Rooyen’s side finished the 2022-23 campaign strongly but fell just short of the final eight, missing out by three points.

In a bid to build for the future, the franchise has tied down some of its brightest and rising stars such as Quan Horn, Francke Horn, Asenathi Ntlabakanye and utility back and star of the moment Sanele Nohamba.

 

Hollywoodbets Sharks:

The men from KwaZulu-Natal started the campaign with a blow, following the departure of Springbok captain Siya Kolisi but took solace from the arrival of another top international player, Vincent Koch.


The Sharks sneaked into the playoffs last season but could not go past the Final Eight, which remains their best finish in the competition since its introduction three seasons ago.

They are among the teams that are at the wrong end of the table at the moment but the return of the likes of Eben Etzebeth, Lukhanyo Am, Jaden Hendrikse, Makazole Mapimpi, Ox Nche and Grant Williams have boosted their prospects.

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