URC preview: guide to the teams Edinburgh and Glasgow Warriors will face

The United Rugby Championship kicks off on Friday. Here’s how Edinburgh and Glasgow’s rivals are shaping up:

The Stormers celebrate winning the inaugural United Rugby Championship after beating the Bulls in the final. (Photo by RODGER BOSCH/AFP via Getty Images)
The Stormers celebrate winning the inaugural United Rugby Championship after beating the Bulls in the final. (Photo by RODGER BOSCH/AFP via Getty Images)

Benetton

Head coach: Marco Bortolami

Last season: 13th

Former Scotland scrum-half Sam Hidalgo-Clyne has joined Benetton. (Photo by Harry Trump/Getty Images)

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Star player: Michele Lamaro, flanker who captained Italy to stunning Six Nations win over Wales.

Never threatened to make the URC play-offs last season but still claimed the scalps of Edinburgh and Glasgow at home. Big turnover of players over the summer and the new recruits include Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, the former Scotland scrum-half.

Bulls

Director of rugby: Jake White

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Sharks wing Makazole Mapimpi in try-scoring form. (Photo by Anesh Debiky / AFP)

Last season: 4th, lost in final

Star player: Johan Goosen, stand-off who is recovering from a serious knee injury.

Strong finish after sticky start and their semi-final win over Leinster in Dublin was arguably the most impressive result of the season. Edged out in the final by the Stormers in Cape Town but likely to be serious challengers once more.

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Cardiff

Director of rugby: Dai Young

Last season: 14th

Star player: Josh Navidi, Wales and Lions back row who Cardiff will be praying stays fit.

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It was a grim season for Welsh rugby in general and Cardiff in particular. Only Zebre conceded more tries in the URC. The addition of Taulupe Faletau and Liam Williams will make them a more durable prospect.

Connacht

Head coach: Andy Friend

Last season: 11th

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Star player: Bundee Aki, formidable centre.

The only Irish province not to make the play-offs, but still have a core of Ireland internationals. Have signed one-time Scotland hooker Grant Stewart following his release by Glasgow.

Dragons

Head coach: Dai Flanagan

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Last season: 15th

Star player: JJ Hanrahan, Irish stand-off has been signed from Clermont.

A change at the top with Dean Ryan moving up to director of rugby and Flanagan arriving from Scarlets to replace him as head coach. Big changes in the squad, too, including the recruitment of Hanrahan.

Leinster

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Head coach: Leo Cullen

Last season: 1st, lost in semis

Star player: Ross Byrne was their main man in the URC.

Finished top of the pile in the regular season but edged out at home by Stormers in semis after that thrashing of Glasgow in the last eight. Losing the Euro final to La Rochelle meant they ended up empty-handed and will be determined to make amends.

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Lions

Head coach: Ivan van Rooyen

Last season: 12th

Star player: Andries Coetzee. Ex-Boks full-back has returned from Benetton.

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Proud club but were poor relations of South African rugby in inaugural URC, although still managed to beat Edinburgh and Munster at Ellis Park.

Munster

Head coach: Graham Rowntree

Last season: 6th, lost in quarters

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Star player: Peter O’Mahony is their beating heart.

All change at Munster, with forwards coach and ex-England prop Rowntree stepping up to replace Bath-bound Johann Van Graan. Quarter-final defeat to Ulster in Belfast was a bitter pill for a side who have not won the title since 2011.

Ospreys

Head coach: Toby Booth

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Last season: 9th

Star player: Return of Justin Tipuric after long-term injury should be huge boost.

Best of the Welsh but not good enough to make the play-offs. Won five of their six derbies to take the Welsh Shield and qualify for this season’s Heineken Champions Cup.

Scarlets

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Head coach: Dwayne Peel

Last season: 10th

Star player: Tongan prop Sam Lousi is key.

Gareth Williams is new defence coach as Scarlets look to claw back the form that saw them crowned Pro12 champions in 2017. Losing Liam Williams to Cardiff won’t help.

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Sharks

Director of rugby: Neil Powell

Last season: 5th, lost in quarters

Star player: Makazole Mapimpi, prolific winger for club and country.

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A narrow defeat in the last eight to the Bulls at Loftus Versfeld was scant return for a squad stuffed with talent. Powell arrives from South Africa’s sevens side to shake things up.

Stormers

Head coach: John Dobson

Last season: 2nd, won final

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Star player: Evan Roos. The No 8 was the URC’s player of the season.

Went from financial uncertainty to inaugural URC champions, beating Edinburgh in the quarter-finals, Ulster in the semis and Bulls in the final on home turf in Cape Town. Roos was outstanding throughout.

Ulster

Head coach: Dan McFarland

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Last season: 3rd, lost in semis

Star player: Iain Henderson is a rock in the second row.

Ulster were highly impressive, beating Edinburgh at the DAM, then knocking Munster out in the play-offs before losing by two points to eventual winners Stormers in the semis in Cape Town. Expect them to challenge again.

Zebre

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Head coach: Fabio Roselli

Last season: 16th

Star player: Alessandro Fusco is a scrum-half of some promise.

Only one win last season and ex-Edinburgh coach Michael Bradley was replaced in April by Roselli. Hard to see how he can turn it around.

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