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Stormers still hopeful of home URC quarterfinal spot as things start to heat up

Stormers still hopeful of home URC quarterfinal spot as things start to heat up
Warrick Gelant of the Stormers scores a try during the United Rugby Championship match between DHL Stormers and Leinster at DHL Stadium on 27 April in Cape Town. (Photo: Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images)

The Bulls and Stormers are fighting for the same fourth-place United Rugby Championship final standings finish, to seal a home quarterfinal.

After two weeks off, the URC competition is back and headed into the business end of the season, with only three matches left before the play-offs begin. 

There are 11 teams still in contention for a top eight finish, with the Lions holding on by the tips of their claws. 

The side from Johannesburg is currently in 11th place on 39 points, but there is congestion above them with Connacht, Ulster and Benetton all on 44 points, occupying positions six to eight. 

Edinburgh and Ospreys lay just above on 43 and 40 points respectively. 

In the front of that traffic area (but fifth overall) by just one point, are the Stormers on 45 points. They are away in Europe for the next two weeks, up against the struggling Dragons and battling Connacht.

Wandisile Simelane of the Stormers and Liam Turner of Leinster during the URC match between DHL Stormers and Leinster at DHL Stadium on 27 April in Cape Town. (Photo: Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images)

The Cape side’s first challenge is in Newport in Wales this evening. Stormers Director of Rugby John Dobson has welcomed back three players from injury for the clash. 

Winger Angelo Davids and loosehead prop Sti Sithole have both been drafted straight into the starting lineup, while utility back Sacha Feinberg-Mngomezulu will start from the bench.

“There is little room for error as the playoffs get closer. And having had all of last week to prepare, we are determined to give our best [tonight],” Dobson said.

“We know that Rodney Parade is a tough place to play, so it will require a big effort to get the result that we need.”

Read more in Daily Maverick:URC stumble may cost SA trio dearly as playoffs loom for big guns

The Stormers need to haul in the Bulls on 51 points above them, in order to seal a top-four spot and a home URC quarterfinal. To have a chance of doing that, they need to win all three of their remaining fixtures, but their fate is not in their own hands.

“We want to play in a home quarterfinal and that is our goal,” Stormers captain Salmaan Moerat said. “But we are realistic and know that the only thing in our control is that we keep winning every game.”

The Stormers take on the Dragons this evening at 8.35pm at Rodney Parade in Newport.

Try time for Canan Moodie of the Vodacom Bulls during the United Rugby Championship match between Vodacom Bulls and Ospreys at Loftus Versfeld on 27 April in Pretoria. (Photo: Gordon Arons/Gallo Images)

Bulls hold the cards

Contrary to their coastal rivals, the Bulls are in control of their home playoff ambitions. 

Director of Rugby Jake White has therefore, understandably, gone all guns blazing for his side’s home clash against table-toppers Glasgow Warriors tomorrow. 

The side that will run out at Loftus Versfeld tomorrow includes a star-studded all Springbok back trio of Canaan Moodie, Kurt-Lee Arendse and Willie le Roux. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: Contrasting nature of URC underlines its value in preparing players for Test rugby

The Bulls loose trio is equally exciting, with Marco van Staden and captain Elrigh Louw flanking young prospect Cameron Hanekom at the back of the scrum.

The match promises to be a tasty one for the Bulls, against Glasgow that haven’t lost a match since a narrow group-stage Champions Cup loss to Exeter in the middle of January.

The clash between the Bulls and Glasgow Warriors kicks off at 2pm on Saturday at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria.

Kurt-Lee Arendse of the Vodacom Bulls during the URC match between Vodacom Bulls and Ospreys at Loftus Versfeld on 27 April in Pretoria. (Photo: Gordon Arons/Gallo Images)

Sharks build momentum

The Sharks, who lost nine out of their first 11 URC fixtures, have finally built up a head of steam heading into the tail end of the tournament. 

It’s too late for the 13th-placed men to make a charge for the URC title but a win over Benetton will help continue their momentum, with the final of the EPCR Challenge Cup approaching against Gloucester on 24 May.

Their 32-31 win over Clermont last week is a continued signal of things turning around in Durban.

“What we’ve made clear is that after our review of the Clermont game, there were things we felt that we need to work on and be better at, so this weekend gives us an opportunity to be better, even though it’s a different competition,” Sharks assistant coach Warren Whitely said.

“We will need to be better in the final and that’s why our focus is on this week, to be better than we were against Clermont and improve where we can.”

The Sharks play Benetton at Kings Park in Durban at 4.05pm on Saturday. 

The Lions host 12th-placed Cardiff and will be fighting for a bonus-point victory to keep their slim playoff hopes alive and turn their fortunes around after back-to-back defeats to Irish juggernauts Munster and Leinster. DM

The match at Ellis Park in Johannesburg kicks off on Saturday at 6.15pm. 

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