Backing a Bulls and Sharks win in the United Rugby Championship will score you big cash. Be responsible but if you have some spare cash, throw it at the Bulls and Sharks, writes Mark Keohane. You won’t ever again get such charitable odds.
SA Rugby Magazine’s Zelim Nel and Ollie Keohane joined me for our first Vodacom United Rugby Championship show previewing the fortunes of the South African quartet, who will bring something different to a tournament being marketed and sold as something very different to every South African rugby supporter.
It certainly is different because for the first time in South African rugby’s history, through the amateur era and since the game turned professional in 1996, rugby will no longer be considered a winter sport. It is now an all-year sport but the regional focus will be on a tournament where the greater part plays out between December and March, in the heart of the South African summer.
It is a tournament that will sizzle under the African skies, especially those afternoon fixtures and the heat will be on once the South African participants, the Bulls, the Lions, the Sharks and the Stormers get back their Test players.
There may be short-term pain in the opening month when all four South African teams are on tour up north and playing without their current Springboks, but the scales will balance when the Celtic and Italian teams have to come to South Africa and face full-strength South African teams.
This tournament is played over 18 rounds and is a marathon and not a sprint.
The Betway odds are generous for the opening round in which there is no form gage as the northern teams are starting their season and the South African teams are transitioning to the second half of what has already been a lengthy season that included the Currie Cup, which was won for a second successive season (in the same year) by the Bulls.
These are extraordinary times because of Covid, and this competition has the potential to provide some extraordinary rivalries, especially with the two Irish giants Leinster and Munster.
Leinster are Europe’s equivalent of New Zealand’s Crusaders and will be the team to beat, while Johann van Graan’s Munster were rebuilt by Rassie Erasmus and Jacques Nienaber in 2016 and 2017 before Van Graan continued to restore the big boys to their former standing.
It is very unknown territory for the South African teams, whose only experience of what to expect was the Bulls taking a 35-8 beating in the final of the Rainbow Cup earlier in the year.
The SA teams will also play in front of crowds for the first time in nearly two years and 38 500 spectators will be allowed into the Aviva Stadium to watch Leinster play the Bulls.
Zel has picked two SA wins in four, Ollie has just one SA team to win and I have two.
Have a watch and a listen of who and why.
Opening round of Vodacom United Rugby Championship
Zebre v Emirates Lions (Parma, Friday 18.35)
Cardiff Blues v Connacht (Cardiff, Friday 20.35)
Ulster v Glasgow Warriors (Belfast, Friday 20.35)
Benetton v DHL Stormers (Treviso, Saturday 14.00)
Leinster v Vodacom Bulls (Dublin, Saturday 18.15)
Edinburgh v Scarlets (Edinburgh, Saturday 18.15)
Munster v Cell C Sharks (Limerick, Saturday 20.35)
— United Rugby Championship (URC) (@URCOfficial) September 20, 2021