Leinster’s top spot under threat in URC round of jeopardy

rugby25 April 2024 15:00
By:Gavin Rich
article image
Leinster Rugby © Getty Images

It is rare for Leinster to have their top spot on the Vodacom United Rugby Championship log threatened, but that is precisely the position the Dublin team find themselves in as they head to Cape Town on Saturday for their clash with the DHL Stormers.

A loss for Leinster will leave the way clear for Glasgow Warriors to pass them, provided of course Franco Smith’s team manage earlier in the day to do what they should be expected to do by beating Zebre in Parma.

Recent weeks have underlined that the competition is becoming more competitive, and less easy to predict, but a Glasgow loss to the Zebre, even on the Zebre home ground, would be an upset of seismic proportions.

This is the first time Leinster’s quest for the top seeding for the Finals Series that comes with another log win has been questioned since they recovered from their opening defeat to Glasgow Warriors and started picking up momentum in November.

There was the defeat to Ulster over the festive period that was unexpected, but it wasn’t calamitous.

With just three rounds to go after this, a loss in Cape Town could be calamitous, certainly to their top spot aspirations, and it will be the Warriors that profit if it does.


As it turns out, Franco Smith’s team could well have gone top last week had they hit the straps after halftime against a tenacious under-strength Hollywoodbets Sharks team at the Scotstoun and banked a wider margin of victory and a try scoring bonus points.

However, they failed to add to the 21 points they scored in the first half, and their failure to grab the bonus point means they are a solitary point behind Leinster.

Of course, a change of position now won’t necessarily be fatal for Leinster, and who will be well aware that Glasgow still have a tour to South Africa in their future.

The Vodacom Bulls did lose to Munster last week but they will be hard to beat at Loftus, while last week’s Emirates Lions performance against Leinster in Johannesburg sent out a warning to future visitors to Emirates Airlines Park that they can beat anyone if they hit their straps on their home field.


But Leinster won’t want to leave it up to other teams to determine their fate, and will be going all out to beat the Stormers, who have as much need for a big response to defeat that the log leaders do.

A defeat for the Stormers in Cape Town is a rare thing, and what made it worse for John Dobson’s men was that they know that while the Ospreys played well, they were well below par.

With Cardiff only just going down to Ulster in Belfast, it appears the Welsh teams are more competitive than they were, and the Ospreys will be heading to Pretoria this weekend confident they can pull off another shock result that will propel them further towards safety in the battle for a top eight finish and the playoff and Investec Champions Cup qualification that comes with it.

The Ospreys and the Stormers are currently locked together on 40 points in sixth and seventh position.

The Stormers lost ground in their quest for a top four finish, but if they can beat Leinster and either the Ospreys or the Lions win against the Bulls and Munster respectively, they will be right back in it.

The Ospreys will also be sniffing a top four spot too if they beat the Bulls.


The log positions and what the results will mean to the jockeying for position will determine which are the plum fixtures this weekend, and outside of the three games on South African soil, all of which carry significant gravitas to what the final log will look like, the top game might well be Friday night’s clash between Ulster and Benetton in Belfast.

The Italian team has bounced back quite well from the little blip that saw them drop from their top four position down to ninth, and are now back up to fifth, just four points behind the fourth-placed Bulls.

Like Glasgow, however, they have a trip to South Africa in their future, and one of those games will be against the Bulls.

So there’s pressure for them to beat Ulster, even though it is an away game for them, and likewise Ulster might consider themselves to be going into their Last Chance Saloon in their quest to emulate the last two seasons by getting into the top four.

There are only three points separating fifth from 11th (Connacht) so there are 11 teams all still in the fight for silverware and for the rewards that come to those who finish in the top half.

It couldn’t be tighter, the battle could not be more absorbing, and the chances are the logjam will persist for a few more rounds at least.


Ulster v Benetton (Belfast, Friday 20.35)

Scarlets v Hollywoodbets Sharks (Llanelli, Friday 20.35)

Zebre v Glasgow Warriors (Parma, Saturday 14.00)

Vodacom Bulls v Ospreys (Pretoria, Saturday 15.00)

Cardiff v Edinburgh (Cardiff, Saturday 16.05)

Emirates Lions v Munster (Johannesburg, Saturday 17.00)

DHL Stormers v Leinster (Cape Town, Saturday 19.05)

Dragons v Connacht (Newport, Saturday 21.00)