Looking ahead to the URC quarters

Looking ahead to the URC quarters

Ulster vs Munster: 

The quarters will open with an Irish derby as Munster look to pick up what has been a somewhat sterile season for them as they travel to Kingspan Stadium to take on Ulster. 


 

Munster were off the pace in their last URC encounter which saw them fall to a diluted Leinster outfit in Dublin:  

 


 

 


Meanwhile, Ulster managed to land the Sharks at Kingspan: 

 

 

 

It will be a particularly special occasion for lively Ulster scrumhalf John Cooney who racks up his 100th cap for the province. 

 

Key facts:  

  • Ulster Rugby have won their last two United Rugby Championship fixtures since losing to today’s opponents, Munster, at Kingspan Stadium on 22 April. This is Ulster’s only home defeat in the Championship this season.

 

  • Kingspan Stadium has hosted three previous play-off matches in the United Rugby Championship with Ulster winning all three, against Neath in the 2001 quarter-final, Scarlets in the 2013 semi-final and Connacht in the 2019 European Cup play-off fixture.

 

  • Munster Rugby have won only three of their last seven United Rugby Championship encounters, with two of those being in Cork.

 

  • The Munstermen have won only once away from home in any competition since late January, on their visit to Ulster in Round 16.

 

  • Munster have lost all seven away games they have played in the play-off stage of the United Rugby Championship.

 

  • Munster have won their last three matches against Ulster since the Ulstermen’s 15-10 victory in Belfast on 2 January 2021.

 

  • The two rivals have met just twice before in United Rugby Championship play-of competition, both semifinals, in 2001 and 2003 with Munster victors on both occasions, 15-9 at Landsdown Road and 42-10 at Thomond Park respectively.

 

Bulls vs Sharks: 

The second quarter-final takes the form of a South African derby as the Sharks leave the lush turf of the east coast and make for the hard ground and thin air of the highveld to do battle with the Bulls at Loftus Versveld.  

 

Both teams last turned out on 20 May, away from home. The Sharks were scrappy against Ulster at Kingspan, out-played for most of the game before bouncing back in the latter part of the game, but it was too little, too late: 

 

The Bulls had a decidedly more positive run as they faced Ospreys, leaving Swansea.com Stadium with a 7-point victory: 

 

Former Springbok and Bulls stalwart Victor Matfield believes that the advantage lies with his old team this weekend. 

  

 “Loftus will definitely make a big difference,” he said., talking to timeslive.co.za. “I think it is a different game when you go to Durban — we all know about the humidity there, which makes it difficult to play there and the kicking game is different. 

 

“The Bulls know how to play at Loftus and have a good record there over the last two to three years. 

 

“The Bulls are a better-coached team at the moment, they know how they want to play, they know how they want to win games and because of that I think they have the upper hand at Loftus. 

 

“They [the Bulls] have only been knockout specialists in local competitions but they are favourites against the Sharks even though it is going to be it is going to be very difficult. 

 

“Once they go over to Europe, maybe for a semifinal, it is going to be more difficult against a team like Leinster. Teams that want to beat Leinster will have to be at their best. If there are two teams that can do it I believe it is the Bulls and the Stormers.” 

 

The Sharks’ burly tighthead prop Thomas du Toit likes the position his side find themselves in, however. 

 

“We live for moments like this,” the 13-cap Springbok prop told the URC. “When your back is on the ropes there’s only one way and that’s to fight your way out of it. I think that’s a good place to be in and a good mentality to have. 

 

“That last one at Loftus was the first time we’ve won there in a while. It gives you a certain level of confidence going there, knowing that, yes, the altitude makes a difference, but we’ve overcome it. 

  

“You mustn’t underestimate how difficult it is going to Loftus. For a lot of people, they will be the favourites and we recognise that, but it does put a target on their backs.” 

 

Regarding set-piece, du Toit said: “The scrums play a big role and the Bulls have always got a very good set-piece. We’ve got some good combinations going in the front row, we’re very much in sync and the scrums will show that. 

  

“The threat from the Bulls is the unpredictability that they’ve added to their game. They have been putting some arrows in their quiver, playing off mauls and scrums, taking opportunities when it’s on in their 22, and when they get momentum they play on top of momentum. 

 

“Subconsciously, playing in a quarter-final definitely changes the game for every player. You’re lying to yourself if you say that there isn’t a certain level of pressure that you put on yourself. But I think that’s a good thing going into a game like this. It’s do or die.” 

 

Ahead of the match, Bulls boss Jake White sang the praises of captain Marcell Coetzee, himself an ex-Sharks stalwart, and a key component of the Bulls’ formidable pack. 

 

“He was outstanding all season,’ White said. “I’ve consistently reinforced the message that his time will come again for the Springboks. I’ve told him to keep on being himself, playing the way he does because the way he plays means he is always knocking on the door of the national selectors. He is too good a player to ignore. I was very surprised he was not in the Springboks alignment squad. All he can do is keep on playing as well as he is doing. I am just glad he does it for us (Bulls) every weekend.” 

 

Key facts:  

  • Vodacom Bulls have lost only one of their last nine United Rugby Championship fixtures: 17-19 at the DHL Stormers on 9 April.

 

  • Bulls have lost only twice at Loftus Versfeld in the Championship, to the Stormers in January and the Sharks in February.

 

  • Bulls only previous appearance in a quarter-final round was in Super Rugby in 2019, losing 28-35 to the Hurricanes in Wellington.

 

  • Cell C Sharks four game winning run in the United Rugby Championship ended with their 21-24 defeat to Ulster in Belfast in Round 18.

 

  • Sharks have lost just one of the six matches they played against fellow South African opponents in the Championship this campaign: 10-20 to the Stormers in Cape Town on 5 February.

 

  • Sharks have played in four previous quarter-final fixtures, all away from home in successive Super Rugby seasons, 2016-2019, with all matches ending in defeat.

 

  • The two sides have met on four previous occasions in the United Rugby Championship with Bulls winning both fixtures in the Rainbow Cup last season and Sharks taking both encounters in the 2021/22 campaign.

 

  • Sharks have won just once at Loftus Versfeld since 2011: 29-22 in Round 12 of the United Rugby Championship.

 

  

Leinster vs Glasgow: 

Log-leaders Leinster host Glasgow Warriors in Dublin in the third of the four quarter-final fixtures. It has been something of a melancholy week for Leinster who missed out on Champions Cup glory after they were defeated by a spirited La Rochelle in the final. 

 

However, Head Coach Leo Cullen has emphasised the importance of putting the disappointment behind them and shifting focus to the present competition. 

 

“We’re very, very close to winning the tournament, [but] we don’t, unfortunately,” Cullen said of the recent final.  

  

“But now we just need to dust ourselves off and try and turn the page to move forward quite quickly.  

  

“We’ll do a deeper review and look into this game, similar to what we probably did last year as well.  

  

“It’s painful. But when you see the crowd at the end – fantastic Leinster support [in Marseille] – but there’s two-thirds of the crowd [made up of La Rochelle fans].  

  

“There’s elation at the end, what it means to them. But that’s what makes the tournament so magical as well.  

  

“Turn the page, it’s our next challenge, dust ourselves off and go again.” 

 

Leinster’s last URC outing was against Munster, a good victory considering the former rested many top names in preparation for the Champions Cup final: 

 

 

Glasgow fell to Edinburgh, 28-11: 

Key facts:  

  • Leinster Rugby have lost three of their last six fixtures in the United Rugby Championship, all away from home, to Ulster, Cell C Sharks and DHL Stormers.

 

  • Leinster’s only home defeat this season was 10-20 to Ulster at the RDS Arena in the United Rugby Championship in November.

 

  • Scottish sides have visited the RDS Arena to face Leinster on 36 previous occasions in all tournaments with their only two victories both being achieved by Glasgow in 2011 and 2019.

 

  • Leinster have lost only three play-off fixtures in the Championship at the RDS, two finals to the Ospreys in 2010 and 2012 and a semi-final to the Scarlets in 2017.

 

  • Glasgow Warriors have lost their last three URC fixtures since beating Zebre 40-12 at Scotstoun on 1 April.

 

  • Warriors have won only twice away from home in the Championship this season, beating Zebre in Parma in October and Connacht in Galway in January.

 

  • The Scotsmen have won their last two fixtures against Irish opponents.

 

  • Leinster have lost only one of their last seven fixtures against Glasgow: 12-15 at Scotstoun in last season’s Rainbow Cup.

 

  • Glasgow have made sixteen previous visits to the RDS in the United Rugby Championship, winning two, drawing one and losing the rest. Three of those encounters were in play-offs, all ending in defeats, semifinals in 2012 and 2013 and the 2014 final.

Stormers vs Edinburgh: 

Edinburgh face a tough quarter-final assignment as they travel to Cape Town where the in-form Stormers lie in wait. 

 

The Stormers have enjoyed a good season, finishing second on the log behind Leinster with a total of 12 victories from their 18 outings.  

 

Edinburgh, with 10 victories to their name, finished in 7th spot and will have to unearth their top performance of the season if they wish to topple John Dobson’s powerful Stormers unit. 

 

Edinburgh last tasted URC action when they brushed Glasgow aside 28-11 on 21 May: 

 

 

 

Meanwhile, the Stormers managed an away victory over Welsh club, Scarlets: 

 

 

 

 Key facts:  

  • DHL Stormers have won their last eight United Rugby Championship fixtures since their 17-19 reversal to Connacht in Galway on 26 February.

 

  • Stormers have lost just once at home this season: 19-37 to the Emirates Lions on 4 December.

 

  • Stormers have appeared in two previous quarter-final fixtures, both in Super Rugby, against the Chiefs at Newlands in 2016 and 2017 but both ending in defeat.

 

  • Edinburgh Rugby’s last eight fixtures in the United Rugby Championship have been evenly split with four wins and four defeats whilst they have not managed back-to-back victories since January.

 

  • Edinburgh have won only one of their last six away games in the Championship: 21-5 against the Cell C Sharks in Durban in Round 14.

 

  • The Scotsmen have lost only once to a South African opponent this season: 9-15 to the Emirates Lions in Johannesburg on 2 April.

 

  • Edinburgh have played three previous play-off fixtures in the United Rugby Championship, losing all three, the quarter-final to Cardiff in 2002, the play-off to Munster in 2018 and the semi-final to Ulster in 2020.

 

  • The two sides have met just once before sharing a 20-all draw in which there was no scoring in the second half at DAM Health Stadium in Round 3.

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