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South African teams are utterly dominating this season's URC

By Stefan Frost
Suleiman Hartzenberg scores for Stormers against Edinburgh October 01, 2022 in Cape Town, South Africa. (Photo by Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images/Getty Images)

South African teams are dominating the opening rounds of the URC with all four franchises populating the top eight of the league table.

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To date, South African sides have won 19 from 20 fixtures, their only loss a self-inflicted defeat so speak – the Bulls defeating the Lions in Round 1.

This comes after the Stormers and Bulls faced off in last season’s URC final, toppling challengers from Ireland and Scotland in the playoffs.

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WATCH as Bulls Director of Rugby Jake White speaks out about a new scourge on the game – water breaks, arbitrarily decided on by referees – Part Two

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WATCH as Bulls Director of Rugby Jake White speaks out about a new scourge on the game – water breaks, arbitrarily decided on by referees – Part Two

That vein of form has sustained into the new season as, for the second game-week in a row, all four South African teams collected wins.

And of them, the Sharks were the only team to miss out on a try bonus-point, after they avoided a shock loss to Dragons on Saturday, relying on a late comeback to steal the win by a single point.

Dragons started the better of the two sides and managed to mount a 19-6 lead thanks to a try from Elliott Dee, only to see that advantage slowly slip away as Grant Williams and Thaakir Abrahams crossed the whitewash in the last 18 minutes to give the visitors a vital win at Rodney Parade.

A day before the Bulls clocked their third straight win, and second successive bonus-point victory, with a comprehensive 28-14 beating of Connacht in Pretoria.

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Zak Burger was the man of the hour after he crossed the line twice to help the men in blue take the win.

The Stormers followed suit, holding firm in the face of an early Edinburgh surge to earn another full-house win in Cape Town. Emerging star Suleiman Hartzenberg shone for the reigning champions by scoring a second half double to topple their Scottish opponents 34-18.

South Africa’s perfect weekend was capped off by the Lions who have now completed an impressive Welsh double, picking up a majestic 31-18 win over Cardiff Rugby, a week after beating the Ospreys 28-27.

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The men from Johannesburg burst alight in the second period at the Cardiff Arms Park, scoring 21 points, carried by the dominance of their scrum and maul in wet and windy conditions.

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Of all the South African teams, the Lions are the only ones to have lost so far this season.

However, the 31-15 loss came at the hands of the Bulls in week one, meaning the URC’s four newest arrivals are yet to be beaten by foreign opposition.

It also means the league’s top eight is densely populated by these unflappable sides. The Bulls sit in second on 14 points with three wins from three and are equal on points with league leaders Leinster. The Stormers lie behind in fourth, with 10 points earnt from two games.

Right behind them in fifth are the Sharks who have nine points from two games and the Lions sit the lowest of the quartet in seventh with nine points from three games.

The one proviso is that none of the SA sides has yet faced the Irish big three of Ulster, Munster or Leinster.

 

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Flankly 3 hours ago
The AI advantage: How the next two Rugby World Cups will be won

If rugby wants to remain interesting in the AI era then it will need to work on changing the rules. AI will reduce the tactical advantage of smart game plans, will neutralize primary attacking weapons, and will move rugby from a being a game of inches to a game of millimetres. It will be about sheer athleticism and technique,about avoiding mistakes, and about referees. Many fans will find that boring. The answer is to add creative degrees of freedom to the game. The 50-22 is an example. But we can have fun inventing others, like the right to add more players for X minutes per game, or the equivalent of the 2-point conversion in American football, the ability to call a 12-player scrum, etc. Not saying these are great ideas, but making the point that the more of these alternatives you allow, the less AI will be able to lock down high-probability strategies. This is not because AI does not have the compute power, but because it has more choices and has less data, or less-specific data. That will take time and debate, but big, positive and immediate impact could be in the area of ref/TMO assistance. The technology is easily good enough today to detect forward passes, not-straight lineouts, offside at breakdown/scrum/lineout, obstruction, early/late tackles, and a lot of other things. WR should be ultra aggressive in doing this, as it will really help in an area in which the game is really struggling. In the long run there needs to be substantial creativity applied to the rules. Without that AI (along with all of the pro innovations) will turn rugby into a bash fest.

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