Skinstad backs Dragons to cause a shock in SA

Former Springbok captain Bob Skinstad believes the Welsh team he once played to have the best chance of claiming a landmark South African scalp in the Vodacom United Rugby Championship this weekend.

The 42-cap loose forward, who skippered his country 12 times, had a spell with the Dragons back in 2004, making nine appearances. He feels the men from Rodney Parade are well placed to become the first Welsh side to win a URC game in South Africa when they take on the Emirates Lions in Johannesburg on Sunday.

“They have won their last two games in the competition while the Lions have been up and down, either on fire or sort of non-commital to arriving at kick-off,” said Skinstad.

“So if the Dragons can make a really good start, they will be comfortable that they can knock them over. With the kind of confidence they have now, they will think they can go there and win that game.

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“What I like about them is they are playing 80 minute games this season whereas they fell off a little bit last season. Of the four Welsh sides this weekend, they would probably be the one that would say ‘Let’s go and pick up the five points’.

“I definitely think it will be the closest of the four games in South Africa this weekend.”

As for the conditions the Dragons will face, Skinstad said: “Playing at altitude is always a problem. Even for us coastal boys, going up from Cape Town or Durban, it is difficult, so that it will be a little bit different. It’s not quite Newport up there at 1,000 meters above sea level. But if you stay in the game, it’s been proven you can beat it. The second wind becomes the third wind.”

Elsewhere, the Scarlets will take on the Stormers in Cape Town on Friday, with the Ospreys visiting the Vodacom Bulls at Loftus Versfeld the following day and then Cardiff away to the Cell C Sharks in Durban on Sunday.

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“I would say South Africa would be delighted with four wins, but three out of four is slightly more likely. As I mentioned, the Lions are the ones that might be targeted, although they have got a young squad that have proven they can beat anyone on their day,” said Skinstad.

“The Stormers should have enough, but I would also see the Scarlets aiming at it as a surprise win for them away from home. I think we are going to see a titanic struggle in that game. There is absolutely no chance the Stormers are going ‘Ok, this is a shoe-in, I’ll pick up my points and move on’. They are aware that the Scarlets are a dangerous side when they get their game together. So it’s all hands to the pumps for the Stormers.”

This weekend’s fixtures are the first of back-to-back URC games for the Welsh teams out in South Africa, with Cell C Sharks v Ospreys, DHL Stormers v Dragons RFC, Vodacom Bulls v Cardiff Rugby and Emirates Lions v Scarlets to follow in Round Nine.

“It’s going to be a tough tour,” acknowledged Skinstad. “The Stormers haven’t lost at home for a year, so they are going to be very confident of protecting that ground. Going there or to the Bulls will be tough for anyone.

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“It’s quite a big mountain for the Welsh sides to climb over the next couple of weeks and it’s well documented there is a little bit of sorting out to do in terms of the off-field baggage in Wales, with the union and the teams.

“It’s also quite hard to lead from the front when Georgia come into the back yard and knock you over, I can’t hide from that. The Welsh have had a whack on the home front and it’s going to be tricky for them. But it’s a good opportunity for the Welsh sides to go over and build something.”

As for the anticipation in his homeland, he said: “The level of interest is sky-high. The URC has really captured the imagination of the South African public, media and players.”

Photo: @dragonsrugby/Twitter

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