The United Rugby Championship heads into the third round of the 2022/2023 season with some exciting match-ups ahead.
Planet Rugby breaks down five talking points to consider ahead of this weekend’s action.
Bulls need improvement
Jake White’s men held a 15-0 lead against Edinburgh last time out and stumbled to a 33-31 win courtesy of Morne Steyn’s boot and a missed penalty by Edinburgh’s Henry Immelman that could have stolen the game.
While the Bulls did perform well in Round One, White will be looking for his side to command the game better when holding a lead as the tournament’s top teams will take advantage of situations like the one in Round Two.
White has called on Springboks Kurt-Lee Arendse and Canan Moodie to start the clash against Connacht, while Johan Goosen starts for the first time since returning from injury. Game management is crucial for the Bulls to become the complete package.
Big Irish derby
Last season Ulster completed a rare double over their Irish rivals, winning both clashes in URC I. Dan McFarland’s men have flown out of the blocks this season and look like a team that could challenge for the title.
However, Leinster’s success and history make them a team to always be concerned about, and Leo Cullen will be looking to prove that on Friday. Johnny Sexton returns on the bench and will once again be key for the province in their hopes to improve on last season’s fortunes, where they were left empty-handed after falling short in the URC and Champions Cup.
The clash will be a solid measuring stick for Ulster as to whether they are in a position to push for the URC II title and will no doubt be a classic Irish derby. As we saw last season, every point counts in this tightly-contested league, and the winners of the game will send a statement to all other teams.
— Ulster Rugby (@UlsterRugby) September 25, 2022
Munster set to find their feet
Although the tournament is still in its early stages, the Irish province are already on the back foot after suffering back-to-back defeats in their first two fixtures against Cardiff and the Dragons.
Both those matches were away from home and despite suffering losses on both occasions, it was somewhat surprising as Munster are amongst the traditional powerhouses of the European game and they were expected to win those matches. While the Cardiff result was a mild surprise, their defeat against the Dragons rocked the competition as it was the first time since 2015 that the Welsh outfit managed to beat the Ulstermen.
Those defeats have put pressure on Ulster head coach Graeme Rowntree, who is in his first season since taking over the coaching reins from Johann van Graan, and the former England front-row will expect an improved effort from his troops when they host Zebre Parma at Musgrave Park on Saturday. With international stars like captain Peter O’Mahony, Malakai Fekitoa and Tadhg Beirne in their ranks, Munster should be victorious but they face a tough challenge against the Italian outfit, who depite losing their two previous games in the competition, picked up double bonus points in both of those defeats against Leinster and the Sharks.
Taulupe Faletau returning for Cardiff
There was plenty of fanfare amongst Cardiff supporters when Faletau joined them in the off season and he showed what all the fuss was about with an excellent performance in the Welsh region’s tournament opener against Munster.
The Wales international delivered a man-of-the-match performance as Cardiff kicked off their campaign with a 20-13 triumph at Cardiff Arms Park. Faletau made an immediate impact at his new club, finishing the match with 66 metres gained which included one clean break and a couple of offloads while he also caught the eye with his breakdown work as Cardiff got their campaign off to a fantastic start.
However, he did not feature in their next game, against Glasgow Warriors at Scotstoun last Friday as Cardiff director of rugby Dai Young was forced to rest the 31-year-old due to a Welsh Rugby Union directive which instruct their regions’ coaches to leave out Wales internationals at certain times during the season. Faletau’s influence was missed against the Warriors and it came as no surprise that his team suffered a 52-24 defeat to their Scottish opponents.
Cardiff have seven matches before Wales get their end-of-year Test programme underway against the All Blacks on November 5 and Faletau is limited to playing in five matches for his region. He returns to action against the Lions on Friday and will be hoping to continue where he left off in his previous game against Munster.
Return of Springboks
The Sharks have opted to rest their heavyweight Springboks, while the Bulls and Stormers have decided to make use of their premier talent.
The electric duo of Moodie and Arendse return for the Bulls to set up an exciting back-three alongside new signing and fellow Bok Sbu Nkosi. White will be hoping the trio can gel and light up the competition in broken play.
Meanwhile, John Dobson has handed a debut to Springbok Joseph Dweba whilst starting Deon Fourie and Damian Willemse, who recently signed a mega five-year contract extension at the club, at inside centre.
Dweba should add improvements to the Stormers’ scrummaging but must get his lineout throwing right to make a full impact on Saturday. Fourie will be prowling around the breakdowns as he did in URC I, where he finished with the most turnover won in the competition.
Willemse has had a brilliant Test season and returns to 12 where he has excelled every time he plays there. It will be interesting to see the new triple playmaker axis in full flight with Willemse, Manie Libbok, and newly signed fullback Clayton Bloemmetjies expected to pull the strings in the attacking structures.