Ross Roche
Senior sports writer
3 minute read
8 Dec 2021
7:24 am

URC 2021 wrap: Tough start to European rugby for the SA sides

Ross Roche

Wins against overseas opposition have been hard to come by as the Lions lead the way among the local teams.

Lions captain Burger Odendaal in action against the Stormers in the URC. Picture: Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images

It has been a difficult and unpredictable start to life up north for the South African sides in the United Rugby Championship and that is set to continue as their maiden season kicks on in the New Year.

The stop start nature of this season’s competition and the uncertainty over restrictions and travel bans due to the Covid pandemic have made life difficult for all teams involved, particularly the SA teams thanks to harsher restrictions placed on the country by UK and EU nations.

Lions

After five rounds of matches the Lions find themselves at the head of the local table, however in 10th place on the 16 team log on 11 points, with just three foreign teams below them in Welsh sides Scarlets and Dragons and Italian side Zebre.

The Lions’ bonus point win over the Stormers this past weekend definitely gave them a boost, while their other win so far was a bonus point one over bottom side Zebre.

In their other three matches the Lions were soundly beaten by Scarlets, who they are level on points with but ahead on points difference, edged by Glasgow Warriors in a match that could have gone either way and lost comfortably to Ulster.

They have shown glimpses of the danger they possess in their games against Zebre, Glasgow and the Stormers and if they can just get the right balance into their game and develop some consistency the Lions could enjoy a decent first campaign in the URC.

Sharks

The Sharks are the second placed local team and 12th on the URC table on nine points, having won two games, against the Bulls and Ospreys, and lost three, against Cardiff, Glasgow and Munster.

Having not had their Springboks available for their UK and EU tour, where they struggled bar the Ospreys match, the impact of having them back showed in a powerful performance against the Bulls over the past weekend.

If the Sharks can keep their Boks in their setup for as much of the rest of the competition as they can, it will bode well for their final placing on the log.

Stormers

The Stormers were the most promising SA team on their UK and EU tour, but are currently third locally and 14th on the log on seven points, having beaten the Dragons, drawn with second placed Edinburgh and lost against Benetton, Munster and the Lions.

They looked to be steadily improving over their four match tour after a bad loss against Bentton was followed up with a much better showing against Munster and then their draw and win, but they then took a number of steps back with their surprise loss against the Lions.

If the Stormers can shake off the Lions result as a once off and get back to what they were getting right before the match, bolstered by their Boks, they could be the SA team to watch over the rest of the competition.

Bulls

The Bulls are the bottom ranked SA team and second from bottom of the overall log on five points, with just one win to their name against Cardiff, while they have lost against Leinster, Connacht, Edinburgh and the past weekend against the Sharks.

Their disappointing form has been the most surprising of the local teams, as along with the Lions they were the least affected by Bok withdrawals, while they had bolstered their side significantly and were the form SA team heading into the URC.

However the Bulls have not found their feet at all and will need to face some tough introspection to see where exactly they are going wrong and what they will need to improve on going forward in the competition.

The Lions are set to be back in URC action on Friday January 7 with an extremely tough match against Leinster, while the Sharks take on Benetton, the Bulls have a good chance of picking up a win against Zebre and the Stormers face Connacht on the Saturday.