URC WRAP: Four SA teams in Champions Cup is possible

rugby20 May 2024 05:00| © SuperSport
By:Gavin Rich
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Jordan Hendrikse © Getty Images

Phew, the final weeks of the Vodacom United Rugby Championship have certainly thrown up some mind-boggling permutations, and it is set to continue into the final round of the season.

And on another tack, while the Vodacom Bulls are sure of their top four spot and the lowest the DHL Stormers can now finish on the log in seventh, there’s still a lot riding on the next two weeks for South African rugby when it comes to qualification for next season’s Investec Champions Cup.

With the Stormers now assured of qualification, the only local team to lose in the penultimate round of the URC, the Hollywoodbets Sharks, this week carry the responsibility of ensuring that next year’s South African participation in the elite competition will go back up to at least three.

They will achieve that if they beat Gloucester in Friday night’s EPCR Challenge Cup final at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London. A win for the Durban team will ensure that themselves, the Stormers and the Bulls are all in the draw for next season’s Champions Cup.

But while you shouldn’t bet on it given where they have to go for their final round game and what else has to happen to facilitate it, it’s also not beyond the realms of possibility that the Emirates Lions might join them and make it four local teams in the Champions Cup.


In producing the South African performance of the weekend in comprehensively beating the previous log leaders, Glasgow Warriors, and with just 14 men to boot for more than half the game, the Lions have given themselves a chance of finishing seventh. A minimum of a seventh-placed finish is necessary as the eighth team in the URC will drop out if their fellow URC team, the Sharks, make it into the Champions Cup via the Challenge Cup route.

The Lions will achieve a top seven finish if they score a bonus point win over the Stormers at the DHL Stadium in their last game, Ulster are denied any log points in their final game away against the in-form Munster and the winner of the Benetton/Edinburgh derby fails to grab a bonus point.

It is the fact that Edinburgh and Benetton play each other in the last round that gives the Lions a possible entry into the top seven - Edinburgh are currently seventh and the Benetton eighth ahead of the Lions’ ninth, but someone has to lose the game between those two teams and a draw will also obviously help the Lions.

But while that would give the Lions access to the top eight, meaning a playoff spot, if they win in Cape Town, it will only be relevant to Champions Cup qualification if they pick up a bonus point with their win and Ulster are denied any points by Munster.


Munster are now top of the log after a weekend that saw tumultuous change at the top and will start as favourites to win in Limerick even though Ulster look like they’ve hit impressive form after their nail-biting win in a high quality Irish derby in Belfast. The question is, will the champions deny Ulster a bonus point?

Yes, it is a long shot, particularly as it is not likely the Stormers, who beat Connacht at the weekend and ended their two-match overseas tour with nine points out of a possible 10, will be in a charitable mood when the Lions visit Cape Town on 1 June.

It is a fact though that if the Lions win, and even if they deny the Stormers a bonus point in the process, the Cape side will still finish in the top seven, which guarantees Champions Cup participation, and they will still finish ahead of the Lions. That is because in the event of a tie in number of points, which it would be if the Lions get five points and the Stormers get none, who finishes higher comes down to the number of wins. And there the Stormers have 11 to the Lions’ nine.

It is that same tournament rule that leaves the Lions needing Munster to deny Ulster a bonus point. If Ulster get one bonus point on the last weekend and the Lions get five, they will both finish on 54 points, but Ulster will go ahead because they have more wins (again 11 against nine).

A bonus point win for either Benetton or Edinburgh will take them level with the Stormers if they don’t get any points against the Lions, but the Stormers will be favoured in a count out against Benetton on superior points difference. If Edinburgh win, it is a different story, as the Scots would then have 12 wins to the Stormers’ 11, but the Stormers still wouldn’t finish lower than seventh.


It all makes for an intriguing final round, with the results of this week’s game in another competition in London having an impact on what the teams will be needing to make the Champions Cup.

Following the shock losses of two of the top four teams, Glasgow and Leinster, there is also now a huge amount riding on the Bulls’ final game against the Sharks in Durban on 1 June. They have moved to second, and can end top if they beat the Sharks and Ulster beat Munster. A defeat though will leave them vulnerable to the two teams immediately behind them, with Leinster and Glasgow trailing the South African side by just one point.

By then the Sharks could be Challenge Cup champions and if they are they will have achieved their mission of getting into the Champions Cup, but they will still have a lot to play for as winning the secondary competition is not necessarily a measure of the much spoken about Sharks improvement.

The team still languishing in 13th position on the URC log hasn’t beaten any team in the Challenge Cup that is ranked higher than ninth in their league, and that is where their opponents on Friday, Gloucester, are also standing in the Gallagher Premiership. There is no denying that the Sharks at full strength are better now than they were a few months ago, but they need to beat the Bulls to confirm the extent of their improvement.

So there’s a lot to play for for all the South African teams on the final weekend and there are nine teams who are still in with a sniff of winning URC silverware. There were 10 at the start of round 17, but the Stormers’ tight win in Galway put paid to Connacht, just as Leinster had done the same to the Ospreys the previous week. Who will be left standing at the end of play on 1 June?

Weekend Vodacom United Rugby Championship results

Edinburgh 26 Munster 29

Zebre 18 Scarlets 32

Vodacom Bulls 56 Benetton 35

Emirates Lions 44 Glasgow Warriors 21

Hollywoodbets Sharks 14 Cardiff 36

Ospreys 26 Dragons 13

Connacht 12 DHL Stormers 16

Ulster 23 Leinster 21

Final round games (weekend 31 May/1 June)

Leinster v Connacht (31 May, 20.35)

Glasgow Warriors v Zebre (31 May, 20.35)

DHL Stormers v Emirates Lions (1 June, 13.45)

Benetton v Edinburgh (1 June, 14.00)

Scarlets v Dragons (1 June, 16.00)

Hollywoodbets Sharks v Vodacom Bulls (1 June, 16.10)

Munster v Ulster (1 June, 18.15)

Cardiff v Ospreys (1 June, 18.30)

Top 10 positions with one round to go: Munster 63 points (12 wins), Vodacom Bulls 61 points (12 wins), Leinster 60 points (12 wins), Glasgow Warriors 60 points (12 wins), DHL Stormers 54 points (11 wins), Ulster 53 points (11 wins), Edinburgh 49 points (11 wins), Benetton 49 points (10 wins), Emirates Lions 49 points (9 wins), Connacht 45 points (9 wins).