An intriguing opening set of fixtures in the BKT URC campaign. Benetton Rugby remain the only unbeaten team in the league which has seen teams looking deep into their squad depth chart.
The fifth round of fixtures has thrown up several intriguing matchups. Hawkeye Sidekick looks ahead to an exciting weekend ahead with several playoff protagonists facing off.
Edinburgh Rugby host Bulls who travel to the Scottish capital top of the league standings. Three wins out of four with two runaway wins over Scarlets and Zebre Rugby along with a narrow win over Cardiff Blues last time out. Their loss against Ulster Rugby seeing cohesion issues at the Kingspan.
The Scottish side come into this fixture on the back of a dramatic Ben Healy drop goal victory over Connacht Rugby. The last gasp victory cannot mask attacking and defensive cohesion issues. There were opportunities for Edinburgh to create width which did not happen. There were defensive misreads.
Bulls will fancy their chances on this fixture but their kick play in open play must be spot on here given Edinburgh’s open field threats in the back three. Slight edge to the hosts here but Edinburgh must improve from last weekend.
Ulster Rugby entertain the Lions at Kingspan. Lions have been competitive this season with several close losses. An one point win on the road against the Scarlets should increase squad morale and confidence but this is elevated company this weekend.
Ulster Rugby will come into this game in buoyant form. The eleven point turnaround against Munster Rugby was impressive albeit their discipline at the death gave Munster Rugby opportunities to score late. Dan McFarland will have duly noted the performance and will expect a better start from his charges.
The hosts hold the aces here. Lions will look to stay in this fixture as soon as possible with an abrasive pack but Ulster Rugby need to show their back line threat. The weather may be a factor but I give the edge to Ulster Rugby to secure a win; bonus-point try may be difficult given the wet and windy weather promised.
Zebre Rugby have secured a keynote win last weekend against the Sharks. This was a result that was coming given the competitive start to their season. The squad recruitment in the off-season excellent and I expect more wins for the Italian side and continuing tonight.
Cardiff Rugby are in a horrendous state. The financial plight, the player depth chart is getting exposed already. Three losses so far and last week’s loss to the Bulls exposing attacking issues. This is a fixture that in recent seasons that Cardiff Rugby would have relished but the tables have turned.
Zebre Rugby have their confidence renewed and this is a genuine winning opportunity. Cardiff Rugby’s season has not hit rock bottom yet. Player personnel personally sees Zebre Rugby edge this encounter to build more feel good factor in their season.
Dragons host Ospreys in the latest Welsh region derby. Dragons were second best last weekend against Leinster Rugby. Basham’s suspension summed up their day with indiscipline issues huge during the outing.
Ospreys have impressed me this season. Their resiliency seen in their losses to Connacht Rugby and Glasgow Warriors as they never gave up. Two good wins against Zebre Rugby and Sharks. This is a side who look the pick of the Welsh regions and they should secure a win at Rodney Parade.
Sharks have endured a horrendous start to the season. Zebre Rugby secured their much needed win over them last weekend. The squad depth looks problematic and Connacht Rugby will hope that the Sharks continue to experience pack / back cohesion issues.
This is a big fixture for Pete Wilkins’ side. A narrow loss to Edinburgh Rugby exposing concentration issues with two poor try concessions. The place kicking debate continues with Carty’s kicking tee issues as of late. Connacht Rugby have a genuine chance here. Slight edge for the Irish province here.
Munster Rugby and Stormers renew acquaintances. I am interested to see how the Stormers perform in this fixture. Their season has been stop start in nature. Two wins and two losses. Their Thomond Park trip will be a good barometer on how the Stormers contend for the rest of the season.
The hosts will be keen to step up their overall performance after an opening half performance against Ulster Rugby disintegrated in the third quarter with scrum and offside issues aplenty. The Ireland internationals are back so Munster Rugby targeting this fixture.
The weather conditions in Limerick hopefully allow some good running rugby but Munster Rugby may need to win this fixture with a pack platform led performance. An interesting fixture beckons here. I do not see much in this fixture; perhaps home win just.
Glasgow Warriors and Benetton Rugby in Scotstoun. A good start to the season for both teams. This fixture comes down to how Benetton Rugby front five deliver. This is a fixture where Benetton Rugby need to provide a statement of intent away from home as far too many road trips have seen capitulations in the pack.
The Warriors have started with renewed optimism and focus. Three wins against Leinster Rugby, Stormers and Ospreys. The one loss to Connacht Rugby but it showcased the Warriors with their attacking style of play. This is a key home fixture for Glasgow and they should get the job done despite Benetton’s best efforts.
Leinster Rugby host Scarlets who are enduring a torrid season. Scarlets with one league win so far against Cardiff Rugby but this is a considerable pick up in levels this weekend.
I would love to say that this will be competitive but Leinster Rugby are warming to the task nicely. This is a thirty point plus win for Leinster Rugby as they look precariously placed to deliver performances starting with Munster Rugby next weekend!
Ulster Rugby, Zebre Rugby, Edinburgh Rugby, Glasgow Rugby, Munster Rugby, Connacht Rugby, Ospreys and Leinster Rugby.