Treviso game will rival Pretoria clash in round 11 of URC

rugby26 February 2024 07:35| © SuperSport
By:Gavin Rich
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Kyle Rowe © Gallo Images

The bye week in the Guinness Six Nations means there’ll be a full round of Vodacom United Rugby Championship action and there are two games of particular significance to the battle for the top four position that brings home ground advantage at the start of the Finals Series.

Locally the big north/south showdown at Loftus between the Vodacom Bulls and the DHL Stormers will take centre stage, with both teams’ top four aspirations likely to be either significantly strengthened or weakened by the result. But while the loser will feel chances have been dented, the game in Treviso at the same time between Benetton and Glasgow Warriors will ease the path into the top four for both SA sides regardless of the Loftus result.

For Benetton in particular, a win is imperative if they want to maintain their top four challenge. The Warriors have opened a four point gap on Benetton thanks to them winning last time out while Benetton did not get anything out of their trip to Leinster. That means Benetton dropped to fourth after starting the last round second, with Glasgow now second, three points behind leaders Leinster.


It is a big game for the two teams not just because of their positions in the top four, and their need to retain that stability in the face of a strong challenge from several teams, but like the Loftus clash, also because of their Shield aspirations. The Scotland/Italy Shield currently sees Benetton as leaders by four points over Glasgow, although Glasgow do have a game in hand in a competition within the main competition that is now only tabulated from derby matches.

Both teams will be missing the bulk of their players to the Six Nations, although in this off week several fringe international players should also return to action. Benetton have been strong at home this season but they are up against a team in good form and coached by a man in former Springbok assistant coach Franco Smith who knows Italy and Benetton very well.

The weekend of high stakes showdowns starts on Friday night, with fifth placed Edinburgh hosting the seventh placed Ospreys. With just one point separating those two teams, and the Stormers on the same number of points as Edinburgh, there is an obvious opportunity for both them and the Ospreys to make a significant climb up the log if they are successful this weekend.


The other game on Friday also has import, as it features the champions, Munster, at home to Zebre. The Italians pushed Edinburgh in Parma last time out but shouldn’t be as tough away from home, with Munster needing a full house of five log points to lift them into the top eight. They are currently ninth and while they won the trophy the hard way last season they won’t be wanting to go that route again.

Connacht are one of the teams living on the edge when it comes to top eight and Champions Cup and playoff qualification so a win at home against Scarlets is an imperative, while another Welsh team, Cardiff, needs an upset win over Leinster at Arms Park if they are to remain in touch with the top eight. Cardiff are currently 12th, which seems a long way away yet it is a different picture if you see the number of log points separating them from the top eight - just seven.

That will change after this weekend if Cardiff lose as a top eight finish will be a bit beyond them if the difference stretches into double figures. Hence the late Saturday night clash in Cardiff will be a quasi knock-out fixture for the hosts. And talking of hosts, there’s no need to point out the imperative of an Ulster win over the Dragons at the Kingspan Stadium in the first game they will play since the Irish province parted ways with coach Dan McFarland.


But locally most eyes will be trained on Saturday’s derby double header featuring two games on the highveld. The Bulls will be looking to break their seven match losing sequence against the DHL Stormers in the main event at Loftus, but the support feature of the Emirates Lions hosting the Hollywoodbets Sharks being no less intense in terms of what is at stake.

The Lions desperately need to get back onto the winning trail after a two game bump against the Bulls if they hope to become South Africa’s third team in the Investec Champions Cup next year, and possibly fourth if the Sharks win the EPCR Challenge Cup. The Bulls will be sitting pretty for a place in the top two on the overall log if they beat the Stormers, but conversely the Stormers will be well back in the race for a top two finish if they make it eight in a row against their arch-rivals.

Both teams head into the Loftus clash in good form and with winning momentum - the last time the Bulls lost it was against the Stormers two days before Christmas, while the Stormers haven’t lost since their second string team made a good fist of it against Leicester Tigers at Welford Road on 8 December.


Munster v Zebre (Friday, 21.35)

Edinburgh v Ospreys (Friday, 21.35)

Emirates Lions v Hollywoodbets Sharks (Saturday, 15.00)

Benetton v Glasgow Warriors (Saturday, 17.00)

Vodacom Bulls v DHL Stormers (Saturday, 17.05)

Connacht v Scarlets (Saturday, 19.05)

Cardiff Rugby v Leinster (Saturday, 21.35)

Ulster v Dragons (Saturday, 21.35)