WEEKEND REVIEW: Joburg and Dublin could decide top spot

rugby16 May 2024 14:30| © SuperSport
By:Gavin Rich
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There are sub-plots and mini battles within the battle galore as the Vodacom United Rugby Championship heads into the penultimate round of the regular season but it is arguably the games in Johannesburg and Dublin that will determine who finishes in pole position.

The top ranked team gets a home ticket all the way to the final if they get that far, and at the moment that is Glasgow Warriors, who have pushed Leinster into what for them is the rare feeling of what it is like being in second place on a log table.

But there is just one point separating the teams, so a Glasgow loss to the Emirates Lions on Saturday afternoon and Leinster win their crunch derby against Ulster everything will return to business as usual. Meaning Leinster at the top.

That said, Glasgow do definitely have the easier of the final round fixtures.

They host Zebre on 31 May, and against those opponents, particularly at home at the Scotstoun, a full house haul of five log points is a racing certainty.

Leinster, who by then will either be in celebration mode a week after the Investec Champions Cup final or in deep depression, should also get a full house in their home game against Connacht.

But a lot could be determined by what happens at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium the week before.

It is less of a gimme, and depending on what happens between Connacht and the DHL Stormers on Saturday in Galway, the visitors could have a lot to play for.

What it amounts to though is this, and it is not completely different to the permutations in soccer’s English Premier League this weekend - everyone talks about the final round being a decisive one, but deep down everyone probably also knows Manchester City will win at home to West Ham, which is all they need.

Going into the final weekend of the URC regular season where they are now, one point behind Glasgow, will effectively rule Leinster out of a top place finish this season.

Which is why it is so imperative Glasgow win at Emirates Airlines Park, and the number of log points they come away with will be important too. If they get just four against the Lions, and Leinster manage five later in the evening against Ulster, then it is all square and the final round really will be a decisive one.

So the games in Johannesburg and Dublin are deciders, but they are not the only fixtures that hold that status in round 17.

The closeness of the log battle has become the story of the URC season and a look through the table and the little sub-plots and mini battles taking place makes it hard to choose what to focus on in this coming weekend’s fascinating penultimate round.


There are several teams at the point of no return. If the Lions don’t beat the log leaders, they will be out of the race for a top eight finish which signifies Champions Cup qualification and playoff participation. There are no more ifs and buts.

This is one day Marius Louw’s team have to back up a previous good performance, something they haven’t done all season.

Connacht are in the reverse position of having to atone for a poor performance, but their position is effectively the same.

Connacht, like the Lions are on 44 points, seven points off the 51 that many consider to be the line that is drawn between top eight safety and being a probable also-ran.

So it was understandable that their experienced flyhalf Jack Carty was talking about Saturday night’s game against the inaugural champions, the Stormers, as a cup final.

They can’t look beyond the Stormers for they know that two wins will be required from their remaining two fixtures, not just one. And the Connacht coach Pete Wilkins agrees.

Not that the Stormers are without pressure and a knock-out attitude of their own. At 50 they are on the brink of being sure of top eight qualification, but will want to keep their hopes of a top four finish, meaning home ground advantage at the start of the Finals Series in June, alive by following up last week’s five point haul against the Dragons in Newport with another.

They will know how realistic that hope is by the time their game kicks off, for the Vodacom Bulls will make completely sure of their place in the top four if they pick up a bonus point win at home earlier in the afternoon.

The Bulls are hosting a Benetton team that was impressive in coming back from the dead to beat the Hollywoodbets Sharks last week but suffered a fair attrition rate in the process.


Munster, with an eight point advantage on the Stormers, are also potentially vulnerable to the team that they beat in last year’s Grand Final in Cape Town. But they will close off that possibility if they win away to Sean Everitt’s determined and hungry Edinburgh on Friday night.

There we go with the sub plots and the different battles within a wider battle. The teams in contention are easily divided into separate groups. There’s a massive fight taking place between the top four teams for ultimate supremacy. With just four points separating first from fourth, any of those four teams - Glasgow, Leinster, Munster and the Bulls - could earn top seeding for the start of the playoff rounds.

Then comes a bit of a gap between those four and the next group, headed by the fifth placed Stormers. Six points wasn’t a huge advantage a few weeks ago, but with two games left it is. But six points is also all that separates the Stormers from 10th placed Lions. And there are just two between the Stormers and eighth placed Benetton.

Lose their remaining two games, with their final fixture being the 1 June derby against the Lions in Cape Town, and the Stormers won’t be in the Champions Cup next year or in the playoffs. There are just four points separating the Lions from the Ospreys, but the Welsh team saw their chances killed off in their thrashing at the hands of Leinster last weekend.


It’s 10 teams still in the running, with effectively four battling for top spot, and then six going for a top eight finish. Actually make that a top seven, because if the Sharks win the EPCR Challenge Cup final on 24 May, they will play in the Champions Cup next season at the expense of the eighth placed finisher.

It’s why Benetton’s win over the Sharks was so important. The Sharks are playing one of the few dead rubber games in this round, Ospreys versus Dragons and Zebre against Scarlets being the others. Perhaps the final weekend, which comes after the break next week for the two EPCR finals in London, will see more dead rubbers. There again, given how the season has gone, perhaps not.


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)

Top 12 placings in URC after 16 games

Glasgow Warriors 60 points, Leinster 59, Munster 58, Vodacom Bulls 56, DHL Stormers 50, Ulster 49, Edinburgh 48, Benetton 48, Connacht 44, Emirates Lions 44, Ospreys 40, Hollywoodbets Sharks 25.