South African sides had another torrid weekend in the URC with only the DHL Stormers managing to secure a win, against Welsh side Dragons (24-10). The Lions suffered a 26 - 10 defeat to Ulster whilst the Bulls lost to Edinburgh 17 - 10 and the Sharks losing the final fixture of the weekend 23 - 17 to Cardiff Blues. Its not all doom and gloom however, as the sides return home, the dynamic of the competition is likely to shift drastically.
With South Africa having been removed from the UK's travel ban 'red list', it was announced that the South African games would take place at home. The contingency plan that had been in place was for the fixtures to take place in Italy, but this was quickly revised as the circumstances changed. I believe the correct decision has been made and this only serves to bolster and uplift the integrity of the tournament in its first year.
The South African sides found it tough going in the beginning but have slowly found their feet and adapted to the new tournament. All sides have recorded their 1st win, with the Stormers having gotten on the board against Dragons on Friday night. Not what we expected to achieve in our first taste of the competition but adjustments will be made as things progress.
The games that took place up North were played in vastly different conditions as they head into winter. Coming to South Africa will be a vastly different kettle of fish as the European sides adjust to playing in 30-35 degree temperatures, at altitude. Make no mistake, they will have to adjust in the same way we had to when we played on their home turf.
It was also pleasing to hear that fans will likely be in attendance at these fixtures, albeit in limited numbers and this will assist greatly in getting the South African publics buy in to the new competition. I for one can't wait to go to Loftus for the Blue Bulls v Munster game at the end of November, having been deprived of live rugby for almost two years, and I'm not even a Bulls fan.
Whilst the Springboks are unlikely to feature for the domestic sides this year still, with the exception of Morne Steyn's cameo at the weekend, our youngsters will have to ensure that South Africa remains a happy hunting ground and becomes a fortress when the boys from the North arrive. Wouldn't it be great to see some score reversals in front of our home fans.
The South African boys aren't in action this coming weekend, but the home fixtures for round 6 (27 November) will see the Stormers play host to Zebre, Sharks will face Scarlets, the Bulls will take on Munster and the final match will see the Lions take on Cardiff Blues at Ellis Park.