Five points to discuss ahead of Round 12, including a must-win match for the Low Power Bulls and Sharks

United Rugby Championship: Split with Smith, Lamaro, Byrne and Willemse Credit: Alamy

The United Rugby Championship continues with Round 12 this weekend, which features exciting match-ups with all South African teams from the Northern Hemisphere as they look for ways to better adapt to the cold.

Ahead of the action, Planet Rugby has picked out five points to consider this weekend.

Will the Bulls conquer Rodney Parade and come out of the crisis?

Sport and everything related to it moves like lightning. It wasn’t long ago that the Bulls looked great after a quick start to the season before the wheels fell off, and now Pretoria have lost three games in all competitions, losing more than 100 points in the process.

Jake White’s team has a tough schedule to deal with and has flown back and forth to the northern hemisphere on long flights, and given his long-term vision for the club, three rebound losses are manageable. . The problem, however, is the nature of the failures.

At times, set-piece weakness, lack of on-field problem solving, and a clear inexperience in key moments have hampered the Bulls in the last three games.

White’s men now have a challenge to win the Rodney Parade. The bulls battling the dragons at Loftus Versfeld are fairly easy to predict a winner, but the Welsh side find other home runs and are difficult to play. Add a dramatic change in weather and conditions for the traveling Bulls, and a brilliant clash awaits.

The Bulls side looks as strong as they can put up at this stage and it would be hard to bet against them, but if White and his men want to get back on track and highlight their championship titles, this is a game they need to win.

Form and confidence can be a slippery slope. If three consecutive losses turn into four, it could spell trouble for the Bulls.

Sharks go to Sportsground dangerously light

Rugby director Neil Powell has done incredibly well since taking over as manager, winning five games on the rebound and getting the most out of his hit squad. The Sharks proved themselves well and truly last weekend with a 47-20 win over the Bulls, and suddenly the Durban side is a team to talk about again.

However, Powell took his first gamble by sending a young squad to a game against Connacht this weekend and leaving the heavyweights at home for the Champions Cup start against Bordeaux and possibly a trip to Harlequins a week later.

As with the Bulls, this is a lot of travel in a few weeks, and fighting on two fronts is a challenge. One wonders if Powell went too light and perhaps a combination of the first and second strings would have been better.

That said, White’s inexperienced Bulls surprised everyone against Lyon late last year, and this Sharks team could have done the same. There is certainly talent on the pitch, but Connacht is no slouch, especially at home.

It promises to be an intriguing clash that Powell will call “champion class” or “disaster class”.

Can the Stormers handle the cold this time?

The Stormers ended a great 2022 unbeaten at home and have looked to continue to grow and progress since their title triumph. However, despite their strong form and position at the table, one weakness showed in the champions’ armor this season: the ability to adapt to the cold and wet weather of the northern hemisphere.

John Dobson’s side have only lost two matches and drawn one this season in all competitions, with all negative results coming from matches in bad or cold weather. The game against Cardiff, where the Stormers’ winning streak ended, was cold, windy and very wet, as was the tie against the Ospreys, while against Clermont in the Champions Cup, a bitter cold beat down the Cape Town men.

However, this is a smart team that will hopefully learn something. Their style is all about throwing the ball and expressing themselves, but the Stormers can only do that because of how deceptively good their attacking pack is; strong in scrum and maul times and impressively mobile.

The forecast in Glasgow is for frost and quite strong winds, which is no secret to Dobson’s people who will know they just have to adapt. They have experienced these conditions several times and the Stormers have to show progress and development.

On the other side of the coin, Glasgow will relish this opportunity to beat the champions. The site has stabilized under Franco Smith and looks brilliant and exciting. This could be a real opportunity for them to catch the stormtroopers.

Two teams that love to throw the ball in icy conditions prepare for one of these matches that showcase the stunning beauty of this rivalry.

Best chance for Benetton to upset Ulster

Dan McFarland will be one of the first to admit that his Ulster side have not been in the best of form lately. While their record is still very strong in the last two games, the Irish province finished in the second half, which Munster took advantage of last weekend to steal a win late.

It’s disconcerting, but Ulster is a hard-working team. However, McFarland’s men head to Treviso to take on Benetton, who have been doing well at home this season, making a show of a beautiful win over Edinburgh.

The Italian side is the most active kicking team, using Tomas Albornoz’s boot to try to control territory and pin teams in their own half. Tactics are effective when done well, which has been the case in most games, especially at home, but you get the impression that the team deserves to be perfect.

It’s a bold thought, but if ever there was a time to upset Ulster, now it’s for the Italians. Of course, the visitors would look at this game as a game to get the ship back in order, but the passionate Italians will play the full 80 minutes hoping to catch Ulster.

Ulster remains the clear favourite, but there are sure to be a few Benetton fans who are secretly dreaming of an unforgettable upset.

Business as usual for Leinster

Who can stop Leinster? This seems to be the common denominator of each season, and rightly so. The training, club ethos, standards, player depth, systems and attention to detail are second to none. There’s a reason the Irish giants are almost always at the top of the table.

The team is the epitome of structure, more than any other club in the world. Even with the Ospreys on a brilliant run of three trot wins, including a triumph over French champions Montpellier, it’s hard to say the Welsh side can beat Leo Cullen’s men.

Of course, this has happened in the past when Leinster have gotten into strange circumstances, but after having nothing to show for last season, the team is thirsty for trophies and is a very scary prospect for the league.

Regardless of the Swansea game, expect Leinster to pick up another win this weekend to continue their flawless season.

READ MORE: URC: Harry Byrne starts at 10 for Leinster against Ospreys as Finlay Bealham and Mack Hansen return to Ulster

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