URC WRAP: Still wide open as late swings impact log

rugby13 May 2024 06:07
By:Gavin Rich
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Vodacom Bulls v Glasgow Warriors © Gallo Images

It was supposed to be a weekend of knock-out rugby in the Vodacom United Rugby Championship but in the end, the only team to be knocked out was arguably the Ospreys, taking the number of sides still in contention with two rounds to go from 11 to 10.

They’re talking about the magical minimum number of points for a top-eight finish this year being 51. That is now mathematically beyond the 11th-placed Ospreys, who have 40 points after 16 games, and who came a horrible cropper against a Leinster team at the RDS Arena eager to assert itself after a poor tour of South Africa.

If 51 is the target, then the DHL Stormers are just a solitary log point from being secure, but they will still be nervous after several other results went against them - the one in Durban for a start. The only South African team to lose was the only one that didn’t have anything riding on the game, the Hollywoodbets Sharks.

But there was a lot riding on the game for their opponents, Benetton, and by extension the Stormers and the Emirates Lions. Defeat in Durban would have been a hammer blow to the Italian team and effectively ended their challenge, but thanks to the late try and conversion from replacement flyhalf Jacob Umaga they are still very much alive and one of several teams that are still close enough to the Stormers to be a threat.


It wasn’t just at Hollywoodbets Kings Park that there was a late play that made all the difference to the URC log. It also happened in Pretoria, where the fourth-positioned team, the Vodacom Bulls, were much more comfortable winners against top-placed Glasgow Warriors than their six-point winning margin suggested.

However, a late flurry of scores and then a penalty on the hooter soured it a bit for the Bulls as the visitors managed to net a four-try bonus point and then a losing bonus point. Those two points enabled Glasgow to end the weekend one point ahead of Leinster, two ahead of Munster and four ahead of the Bulls.

A one-point advantage makes their trip up the M1 this coming weekend to Johannesburg to play the Lions a particularly important juncture in their season. With the Warriors set to host lowly Zebre in their final league game, full points from their visit to Emirates Airlines Park would almost assure them of pole position and therefore top seeding going into the Finals Series.

With Leinster set to play Ulster this coming weekend and Munster having potentially tough clashes with Edinburgh (away) this coming Friday and then Ulster (home) in the final round, the Bulls might still be hopeful of finishing higher than their current fourth. Their last two games are against Benetton, who looked a bit injury-ravaged after the Sharks game and should be beaten before they go to Durban for a potentially tricky finish against the Sharks.


Where the weekend might have seen a quasi-knockout scenario was in the battle for teams from the chasing pack to sneak into the top four. The Stormers’ late flurry of tries that secured them full points after an abjectly poor performance against the Dragons would have been more meaningful had the Bulls or Munster tripped up.

That didn’t happen, and with six points separating the Bulls from the Stormers, who go to Galway next to face a Connacht team that will be desperate and smarting after their big defeat to Munster, a five-point haul from their game against Benetton will be enough to ensure they can’t be caught by their fellow South African team.

The Bulls were impressive for 60 minutes of their game against Glasgow, the Stormers for the last quarter hour against the Dragons and the Lions early on against Cardiff and then again at the death, but the performances of the weekend were arguably the ones produced by the top two Irish teams.

Munster’s big win over Connacht sustained the impressive momentum they picked up on their tour of South Africa and they remain strong contenders to retain the trophy they won in a tight final in Cape Town last May. And Leinster, after leaking a few tries and having to withstand a concerted Ospreys onslaught halfway through the first half, were imperious in dispatching the top Welsh challengers.

One of the reasons the Bulls need to get up the log from a South African viewpoint is because it looks increasingly likely the Stormers will finish fifth, and fourth plays fifth in the quarterfinal round. It would be better for the Bulls to host an overseas team, and better for South Africa to avoid a scenario where only one team can make the semifinal round.


Dragons 21 DHL Stormers 44

Edinburgh 40 Zebre 14

Vodacom Bulls 40 Glasgow Warriors 34

Hollywoodbets Sharks 24 Benetton 25

Scarlets 20 Ulster 31

Munster 47 Connacht 12

Emirates Lions 34 Cardiff 13

Leinster 61 Ospreys 14

Next weekend’s Vodacom URC fixtures (round 17)

Zebre v Scarlets (Parma, Friday 20.35)

Edinburgh v Munster (Edinburgh, Friday 20.35)

Vodacom Bulls v Benetton (Pretoria, Saturday 14.00)

Ospreys v Dragons (Swansea, Saturday 16.00)

Emirates Lions v Glasgow Warriors (Johannesburg, Saturday 16.05)

Connacht v DHL Stormers (Galway, Saturday 18.05)

Hollywoodbets Sharks v Cardiff (Durban, Saturday 18.15)

Ulster v Leinster (Belfast, Saturday 20.35)