While the South African teams have yet to shake things up in the current United Rugby Championship table, Munster coach Johan van Graan believes they will have a huge say in how the table is set up and even in the coming weeks. play-off fight.
While all four SA squads head north this weekend for games against URC opposition, on their return they will host a number of games against foreign teams in their bid to finally get a cross-continental action that was denied in December due to the outbreak of the Omicron variant.
Some of the matches are rescheduled matches from the two weeks in December, while others are regularly scheduled matches. Either way, it gives the teams a decent run of home games to look forward to and if they do well, as expected, their positions in the log will undoubtedly rise and give the play-off race some extra spice.
The opening tours were not a success for the South African teams, but now that we know what to expect in Europe, the teams are better prepared and there is a sense of excited anticipation among local players and coaches.
The feeling is that playing in South African conditions is an opportunity to get a string of wins. One coach who sees this happening is South African native Van Graan, who told Irish media this week that the log will be dictated by what teams are doing in South Africa and that the local teams will have a lot of say in the results of the first URC season.
“Everyone has yet to get down there and it will be a huge challenge for the teams in the Northern Hemisphere to learn what it takes to play in Loftus and Ellis Park and Cape Town Stadium and in Durban. That is a huge challenge,” says From Grain.
But first, the South African sides must negotiate the one-off games against foreign opposition, and with Leinster hosting the Lions and the Bulls against Zebre in Parma on Friday night, and the Sharks against Benetton and Stormers Connacht on Saturday, there are some delectable games happen.
While they are widely expected to be favorites at the RDS Arena, where they easily knocked Ospreys out on Saturday, Leinster coach Leo Cullen is preparing for a scouring attack from the Lions’ forwards.
“It was important to get a bonus point on the Ospreys in this series of matches,” Cullen said after his side’s win over the Welsh side.
“The Lions are very big and physical and abrasive around the contact area. We’ve done our homework on them so we know there are plenty of threats out there.”
Anyway, the end of the derbies and the arrival of cross-border matches will be widely welcomed. And ultimately, the play-offs will be determined by matches in the Republic and the reaction of the four South African teams to the arrival of the invasion on their own grounds.