The Emirates Lions would seemingly be on the radar for the United Rugby Championship (URC) and there wouldn’t be a reason why they wouldn’t be one the top performing South African franchises according to former Springbok Bob Skinstad.
The Lions will approach unchartered territory as they take on the Zebre’s at the Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi in Parma. Skinstad believes that the team will do great things during the competition.
“The Lions have really struggled early on in the Rainbow Cup, and we know that they had a couple of bad results, but it doesn’t mean that the quality of the squad they’ve got is poor,” said Skinstad.
“They will have to start well though, they have some big teams in the opening run but then they have got quality. We’ve seen that the teams that are building with players who have come back from South Africa Under-20 and Under-23 duty have been able to perform, “he said.
“They have just got to be aware that you are taking on internationals at every turn, “he added.
The Golden Lions will kick off the South African participation in the European competition when they play Zebre on Friday night.
The Bulls, who have won every local trophy that they have competed for since the return from the coronavirus lockdown last September, started the Rainbow Cup decider, which featured the southern section (South African) winner against the northern (European) winner, as overwhelming favourites.
But instead of the Bulls underlining the strength of the South African game, they were just not at the races as they slid to a devastating 35-8 defeat that has left questions about the strength of regional/provincial rugby in the World Cup champion nation hanging in the air. And those question marks were indented with even heavier ink when the Lions, Sharks and Stormers were all beaten by what could be described as cricket scores in their games against the Lions tourists.
The Bulls, who have won every local trophy that they have competed for since the return from the coronavirus lockdown last September and who won a second successive Currie Cup title less than two weeks ago will face Leinster at the Aviva stadium in Dublin.
The competition could not have asked for a more interesting start, with Leinster coming in as reigning PRO14 champions, a trophy that they hogged for the last four seasons that the competition was played under that name. Leinster have also been multiple European champions, with their most recent success having been their victory over the French club, Racing 92, in the 2017/2018 final in Bilboa, Spain.
The Sharks and Stormers also have tough openings to their respective four match tour of Europe, with the Sharks meeting last year’s beaten PRO14 finalists and consistent contenders, Munster, at Thomond Park while the Stormers will be trying to do what the Bulls failed to do when they visit Treviso to play a Benetton team that might have experienced a growth spurt courtesy of their first ever major trophy win.
It is the start of a long season and what should be testing and varying campaigns for the respective local franchises, a challenge probably best summed up by Springbok assistant coach Deon Davids, who coached the Southern Kings in the PRO14.
“The Championship will test the abilities of the South African players to adapt to so many different things, such as the varying playing styles of the different clubs and countries and the vastly contrasting playing surfaces and weather conditions you encounter during the season,” said Davids.
For the South African teams there isn’t just the carrot of making the final and winning the trophy that is on the line, but also the lure of playing in the prestigious Champions Cup next year, something they will manage to do if they finish in the top eight teams on the 16 team log. That means there will be many subsidiary battles aside from the main one for silverware between now and the end of the competition next June.
Weekend United Rugby Championship fixtures:
Zebre v Lions (Parma, Friday 18.35)
Cardiff Blues v Connacht (Cardiff, Friday 20.35)
Ulster v Glasgow Warriors (Belfast, Friday 20.35)
Benetton v Stormers (Treviso, Saturday 14.00)
Leinster v Bulls (Dublin, Saturday 18.15)
Edinburgh v Scarlets (Edinburgh, Saturday 18.15)
Munster v Sharks (Limerick, Saturday 20.35)
Story by Fatima Said