URC swings back into action, with South Africans on more assured footing after debut season

As the United Rugby Championship sparks into action, the UK sides are looking to prevent a repeat of last season’s all-South African final.
The second season of the United Rugby Championship (URC) in its current guise – that is, featuring South African teams – kicks off this weekend.
The Stormers, who surprised the competition’s UK powerhouses to clinch the coveted crown, will look to defend their title, while the likes of the Sharks and Bulls will be intent on wrestling the trophy away from the Western Cape side.
There is no question that defending their title will be a monumental battle, with the likes of Ireland’s Leinster smarting from a trophy-less campaign. Warrick Gelant’s departure to Racing 92 is a big loss, but Springbok hooker Joseph Dweba headlines the Stormers’ new additions.
The Stormers will play their two opening fixtures at home in Stellenbosch – versus Irish side Connacht (24 September) and Scotland’s Edinburgh – before jetting off to Italy to clash with Zebre Parma.
In the opening week, they and Durban’s Sharks will sit out the curtain-raising fixtures. According to the Western Cape-based outfit’s coach, John Dobson, they don’t mind having an extra week to prepare for the mammoth task at hand.
“It suited us. We played the extra weeks to get to the final. So, another week of pre-season is probably good for us. It increases the rest,” he told CapeTalk.
“Just seeing the energy, and how we’re training in the group. It’s just extraordinary with all the competition for places,” he added. “There’s good energy. It’s better than I thought. I was trying to manage expectations. I probably still need to, but I’ve got a really good feeling about this.”
Gauteng derby
While the two South African teams will be resting and watching the early season action from home, the other two sides open their respective campaigns versus each other.
Read more in Daily Maverick: “URC success underlines that SA Rugby’s move north was justified”
The Lions, who missed out on a place in the playoffs last season and have lost some key players over the summer, host the Bulls in Johannesburg on Saturday.
The Bulls were last season’s bolters, muscling in on the top eight before making it all the way to the final after beating Leinster in their own backyard.
They fell just short in the Cape Town decider but have made a couple of exciting additions in the shape of former Sharks wing Sbu Nkosi and Wandisile ...