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URC Season Review 2022/23

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Post by Welshmushroom Wed 14 Jun 2023, 11:05 am

Well the season is over and I've been really impressed with the league this year.

I'll be honest Munster winning it I totally didn't see coming.  They were outstanding in the closing part of the season.  Great attitude and hunger to get results.  I doubt after their opening rounds anyone had them pegged to win it.  

Stormers always had a tough job trying to retain last year as retaining this title could end up being really difficult to do.  From what I saw the season they probably didn't quite play as well as last year.  The impact of also having to include European rugby really showed a new dimension on how to try to balance lineups and having 2 focuses in a playing season.  It's not easy but I would say they did a good job on both fronts.

Leinster probably had a poor season by their standards but then again it is a WC year so maybe this season wasn't the worst result for Ireland as I no doubt will focus minds and bring back that edge they will need.  I'll be interested to see again how next year plays out and if Cullen will change anything next year in terms of how they prioritize Cups.  I'm sure Europe will probably win out again but I think it's safe to say that quarter final rugby in the URC does end up needing a bigger majority of front line players playing if your going to challenge on this front.

Glasgow were really good to watch this year.  They still have some weakness in the team and 10 might be their biggest area to look at.  They have some quality backline players and their pack looked fairly good as well.  They probably do need to get another ball carrying backrow to take some of the load off.  Going to be really interested to see what they do in the transfer market in the off season.  I imagine given the players going and the massive amount of free agents still looking for clubs there could be a real chance to make a difference.  

Ulster were like the total opposite of Munster.  Started great and by round 6/7 I thought they could end up winning the whole thing.  Then the decline happened and once that confidence went they looked like a different team.  Just goes to show how much confidence plays a major role in rugby.  Probably Moore getting injured when he did didn't help things.  He was great in the early part of the season.  Doak seemed to suffer a bit from second season syndrome so that was probably expected when you consider how that usually goes for young players.  They do have some problem positions though and I think second row is an area of concern and ball carrying in the forwards.  Kitschoff will no doubt be a excellent signing but less certain about Ewers who doesn't look quite the same as his early years at Exeter.  They do need to add some quality but given the overseas limits may not be able to fill the gaps with overseas players.  I'd imagine overall Ulster fans must be disappointed with how the season played out.

Bulls weren't great this year.  Were not consistent at times.  I put that down to having Europe in their minds as well.  They have got a good couple of additions already for next season so no doubt will be better next year.  But it's probably safe to say Jake White won't be to upset the seasons over so he can prepare them for next year.

Connacht always amaze me.  Considering their budgets and the lack of star names in their side they always play with heart.  Very similar to the Lions in that way.  Always better than the sum of their parts.  And similar to last season some of the games they played were really entertaining.  I do think they will always have a fight on their hands to reach those top 8 spots simply from a finance point of view.  

Sharks were really poor this year at times.  Really thought they would be better than they were.  They have a major job on their hands if they are ever going to be contenders for this title.  Off season signings don't appear to inspire at this stage but given all SA sides have increased their budgets for next year by 25% I'm guessing we could some more top end signings before the summer is out.  Sharks will need it given some of the key guys that have now left.

Lions actually did a good job.  Picked up some good wins on the road.  They are SA version of Connacht though and their squad is never filled with superstars.  I will say Hendrikse was good to watch.  Think he is a good prospect.  Will the Lions be able to retain him in the long term though?  Probably not.  Louw had a pretty good season from the games I watched him play.

Cardiff disappointed me this year.  One thing the URC has driven home in the last 2 seasons is that without a descent front 5 you have no chance.  Cardiff have a excellent backrow and fairly good backline but it matters little when you cannot get parity.  Given the budget cuts in Wales I can't see them heading into next year in even the same state as they have now lost a couple of Props as well.  They did play some good games though so not all doom and gloom.  They just rarely backed it up week to week.

Benetton really impressed me again this year.  They really do try to play rugby.  If I'm honest they were a bit unlucky not to make the top 8 in my eyes as some of the rugby they played this year was better than teams above them.  Was one of the teams I made sure to follow as I really liked the way they play.   Fekitoa will no doubt enjoy the way they play and will add something to them for next season.  I think Treviso fans probably are right to feel they were better than their league position suggests.

Edinburgh.  Were to start with them.  So much talent in that team.  But they went totally off the rails.  They looked like 10 became an issue for them for sure but more worryingly is they really seemed blunt in the forwards.  Given the players though that really should have happened.  They totally got overpowered by sides with less quality so clearly the camp struggled with confidence, direction and maybe dare I say it attitude.  I don't think turning this around though will be that difficult but getting the right Head Coach will be key.

Ospreys were pretty much all at sea this season.  At times their pack really put the heat on teams but far to often those same players wouldn't be consistent.  They really struggled to maintain the standard required to play in this league.  They have problems all over the park and with no money to fix it probably will have to start searching for youngsters to bridge the gap.  I will say Jac Morgan was good again this year.  Also a shout out to Morris.

Scarlets probably have some of the best attacking players in Wales.  But the same issue that is affecting the entire welsh rugby is the front 5.  No platform against the better sides makes it difficult to compete.  They had a horrible opener to the season so in fairness to Peel he did much better in the second half.  Lousi and Fifita were excellent though but 2 guys can't carry a pack.  Granted Kalafomi did his bit too.  But that front 5 really needs work.  All that said they could be the best welsh region next year but I doubt any welsh sides get anywhere near the top 8.

Dragons had a better season than last.  That wouldn't have been difficult given results last year.  They did at times look much better though.  Dai does look a good coach.  But I worry he lacks experience in recruitment or an eye for identifying talent.  There were a few games we probably should have won that slipped away from us.  Lions was one of those.  But given it was a improvement on last year I don't want to be critical.

Zebre really did well in the opening rounds.  Really tried to play.  Really enjoyed watching Gesi play.  He looks a good talent for Italian rugby.  Problem for them is recruitment.  Must be difficult to get players when you always end up bottom of the league.  As much as paychecks are important I'm sure players also worry about how their form is perceived when your team losses most weeks.

All round a really enjoyable season.  Feel free to add your views or review any of mine.  How was your URC experience this season?  Was it me or did the knockout stages really feel like they cranked it up a bit from last year?

Welshmushroom

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Post by geoff999rugby Wed 14 Jun 2023, 3:16 pm

Welshmushroom wrote: Ulster....They do need to add some quality but given the overseas limits may not be able to fill the gaps with overseas players.  I'd imagine overall Ulster fans must be disappointed with how the season played out.


There will be no more top players at Ulster, the money isn't there.
Its not an overseas limit it is financial cut backs.
A number of players took significant pay cuts
Squad reduced to mid to upper thirties from close to 50.

No guarantee that Henderson will stay, if he doesn't we will be down to 4 locks, 2 who are very inexperienced.
It will be a success to be top 4 next year with the squad we have.
I reckon 5th to 8th is more likely.

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Post by Welshmushroom Wed 14 Jun 2023, 3:53 pm

That's a big fall from grace then for Ulster. Would you consider as a fan a 5th to 8th finish based as a success then based on your comments above?

I'm a Dragons fan so I know to well about having to adjust ambitions Smile

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Post by Hazel Sapling Wed 14 Jun 2023, 4:31 pm

Glasgow are fine for ball carriers with M Fagerson, Dempsey and Vailanu. Really, we need to figure out whether playing with a traditional 7 like Darge and Gordon suits us better than having Vailanu at 7 or Manjezi at 6 and pushing M Fagerson over.

I think a lot will come down to the development of youth as it always does for Glasgow. We have talented academy players like Hiddleston, Fraser, Williamson, Samuel, Brown and Ferrie. Can they take the leap and replace the old guard?

We missed our first choice 10, Ross Thompson, all season due to injury. If he comes back and kicks on as hoped for this year, Glasgow are all sorted. If not, we may be in the market next year.

Key recruitment for us will be centres/wings. We lost our star wing McLean for being an abuser (deservedly gone), Fifita never got a look in (also had legal trouble), and Forbes looked okay but went home to NZ due to homesickness. We need Duncan Mann (u20s captain) or an academy wing to make a push otherwise, we are two injuries away from being in trouble from 11-15. Rowe was on the comeback trail at LI and would make too much sense for it to happen.

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Post by Welshmushroom Thu 15 Jun 2023, 8:14 am

McDowall looks like a special player as well. If he keeps going he is going to be a real top end centre.

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Post by Oakdene Thu 15 Jun 2023, 8:47 am

I mean from a Welsh point of view Cardiff were probably deserved winners of the shield but it was close between them, Ospreys & Scarlets. If we (Scarlets) had managed our basic skills better in the early part of the season we may have finished higher up the table.

Looking ahead it's hard to see how any of the Welsh sides can hope to have any aspirations on the top 8 & I can see us all in the Challenge Cup for the foreseeable future.

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Post by geoff999rugby Thu 15 Jun 2023, 9:05 am

Welshmushroom wrote:That's a big fall from grace then for Ulster.  Would you consider as a fan a 5th to 8th finish based as a success then based on your comments above?

I think 5th to 8th is the reality of where we are at the moment.
I would suggest Sharks, Bulls, Stormers, Leinster and Munster will be stronger than Ulster next year - maybe Warriors.
The fixtures for next year will reduce the Saffers visits to the NH to 2 next year and they are adapting to the format year on year.
In those circumstances Top 4 would be a huge achievement.

The depth in the forwards is desperate.
LH (3 experienced professionals, one World Class) and Hooker (2 experienced professionals, 1 youngest who maybe going to the World Cup and an untried new professional) are Ok
TH (2 experienced professionals, 1 player recruited from local rugby with no professional rugby)
Lock (2 experienced professionals, 2 youngsters with 6 starts between them in their entire careers)
Back row (2 experienced professionals, 2 youngsters who have made the grade and 2 journeymen, break glass cover)

Thats is paper thin with Ireland call ups and injuries.
Wafer thin at 10 and ability falls off a cliff if the any of the starting back three are unavailable,

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Post by Welshmushroom Thu 22 Jun 2023, 11:39 am

Any mileage in moving Lowry to 10? He really looks good in attack. Would have thought it would have made sense to put him there and bring in another quality full back.

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Post by geoff999rugby Thu 22 Jun 2023, 2:34 pm

As mentioned elsewhere no magic money tree to bring in a quality 15.
Better to give Flannery his head, he looks a decent player to me.

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Post by Welshmushroom Thu 22 Jun 2023, 2:59 pm

I just hope Patchell and Anscombe move on. Not the players they were and I would rather see more reliable options at the regions. Problem is they did a poor job developing 10's. Costelow looks good but aside from him we have nothing coming through. Good news for him though as he will be a shoe in after this next world cup.

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Post by Welshmushroom Wed 28 Jun 2023, 1:23 pm

One thing I will say that has been positive for the URC as a whole is the standard of each round as been extremely high.

Part of the issue for me prior to SA joining has been that some players had a tendency to coast in this league and live on reputations.

Ireland & South Africa really have brought that hunger and aggression to games in the league. I don't actually think Wales produces worse players than either nation but part of the systemic issue has been they didn't often turn up at club level when selected. There are some players who are outliers but generally speaking confidence & hunger still play a big part in how a team goes.

Now if Welsh Regions were actually smart they would start to bench mark their players against the standards required and those simply not good enough at this level to be cut from squads and bring the next batch of hopefuls through. Sounds ruthless I know but in reality if Welsh Teams are ever going to sort themselves out it's investing in development and giving them game time. I see no value in keeping sub standard players at regional rugby.

The big welsh reset at the minute I also hope will result in a change of mindsets of players and regions in terms of the league and the standards they need to start setting. Unpopular viewpoint but a reality in modern day sports.

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