South African backs back to hold the line in URC

Embrose Papier of the Bulls. | BackpagePix

Embrose Papier of the Bulls. | BackpagePix

Published Mar 19, 2024


The South African franchises will start the end game of their URC campaigns this weekend with three sides still in the running for play-off spots, while there’s some pride to salvage in Durban to avoid the wooden spoon.

It’s tricky away Saturday games for the Bulls against the Dragons (9.35pm) and the Lions against Connacht (7.15pm), with the Stormers (Edinburgh, 5.05pm) and Sharks (Ulster, 3pm) at home against two other top-eight contenders.

Here, Independent Newspapers looks at four backs we’d like to see perform for their teams this weekend.

Embrose Papier of the Bulls. | BackpagePix

Embrose Papier of the Bulls

He was desperately unlucky to miss out on the Springboks’ first alignment camp of the year, but such is the competition at half-back in the national set-up.

But at the Bulls, he’s been the No 1 scrumhalf for a while now, and he will look to cement his place as Jake White’s first choice. He won’t let the Bok snub deter him and would want to build on the massive performance he had against the Stormers last time out in the URC.

If the conditions allow it, he will be the conductor of the Bulls’ forwards and backs attacking play, but if Newport dishes up some wet weather, the accurate boot of Papier will play a big role, too.

Five points away from home will be crucial in the Pretoria side’s quest to reach the pinnacle of the URC points table.

Marius Louw of the Lions. | Backpagepix

Marius Louw of the Lions

Although there are plenty of star players around him, as the Lions’ captain and leader of the pack, his overall game will be important as they look to seal a maiden URC play-off spot over the last seven games.

They are starting with a difficult overseas clash in Ireland and how Louw leads by example could play a big role in his team’s overall performance.

Their discipline will be key this weekend as it has often cost them at crucial times in clashes. They will have to limit the penalties and avoid yellow cards. Louw will be instrumental in keeping his troops level-headed. But his prowess in defence and creating space will be vital.

Lukhanyo Am of the Sharks. | BackpagePix

Lukhanyo Am of the Sharks

The smiling centre – and his team for that matter – haven’t been the best this season. They linger in last place on the URC table, and although Am has had flashes of his brilliant play, these haven’t been consistent.

Now, with less pressure on them in the URC, it can allow Am and the Sharks to find their attacking mojo again. He’s been pipped by Jesse Kriel for the starting 13 jersey of the Boks, but a good display can bring Am right back into the conversation.

They take on Ulster, a difficult defensive side to break down, and Am’s attack-minded play could hold the key for the Sharks to unlock them and get on the try-scoring sheet.

Manie Libbok of the Stormers. | Backpagepix

Manie Libbok of the Stormers

Back in front of his home crowd, and back in the saddle after another break. He will be looking to get the Stormers on the front foot early on against Edinburgh.

He blew hot and cold against the Bulls at Loftus Versfeld and will want to make up for some opportunities that were missed in that clash. The driver of the Stormers’ attack, Libbok can create something from nothing, especially in the transition plays.

The former URC champions are looking stronger on the attack as well, and their flyhalf will lead the charge as they prepare for a crucial couple of weekends on the rugby field.