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UNITED RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP

Ten into eight doesn’t go as URC pool phase dust set to settle

Ten into eight doesn’t go as URC pool phase dust set to settle
Andre-Hugo Venter of the Stormers in action against Dragons during the United Rugby Championship, Newport, Wales.

The dust in the URC will settle this weekend as the mad scramble for play-off positions is decided with many plots to play out.

There are 10 teams that could make the top eight. The identities of the top four are decided, meaning quarterfinal home-ground advantage, but their final positions are not.

Currently, the standings positions are: Munster, the Bulls, Leinster and Glasgow. But at the conclusion of the round anyone of those four could be top and any one of them, fourth.

The Bulls travel to Durban to meet the Sharks in round 18 where a win will be enough to secure the SA Shield (for being the top South African team). A win with a bonus point would guarantee second place on the standings at least, which would allow for a home semi-final if they progress past the quarters.

Coach Jake White has picked a full-strength team for the match knowing that a maximum haul of five points at King’s Park has to be the objective.

The Sharks might be out of playoff contention, but they won the European Challenge Cup last weekend, and have displayed much improved form in recent weeks.

If history is anything to go by, South African teams do not roll over for each other. If anything, they raise their level, so the Bulls will have to earn everything if they are to collect a full haul of points.

Read more in Daily Maverick: SA teams focus on URC after Euro irritation over Bulls’ benchwarmer squad in Champions Cup quarters

Harold Vorster of Bulls, URC

Harold Vorster of Bulls tackled by Own Watkin of Ospreys during their United Rugby Championship clash at Loftus Versfeld Stadium. 27 April 2024. (Photo: Sydney Mahlangu/BackpagePix)

Tough assignment

The Lions have an outside chance of making the top eight and therefore qualifying for the postseason for the first time in the three-year history of the tournament.

But to do that they will have to beat the Stormers at the DHL Stadium.  That is as tough as strolling in downtown Doornfontein after dark displaying the latest smartphone while wearing an expensive Swiss watch and hoping not to be mugged. It’s doable, but you don’t fancy your chances.

The Stormers can’t finish outside the top eight, but they will want to enter the playoffs with momentum, while defeat to the Lions could see them drop down the standings.

The Lions, meanwhile, must win and take a bonus point to sneak into the top eight. They are currently tied on 49 log points with the eighth-placed Benetton and seventh-placed Edinburgh.

Spicing up the clash, the Joburgers have a superior attacking record this season with a 63-point lead over the Stormers, but the home side have been more effective on defence, conceding 45 points fewer in their 17 matches to date.

The Stormers will draw inspiration from the fact that they only suffered one defeat at home this season in the tournament — against Ospreys — but with both teams desperate for a victory, it could prove to be a tight match.

Here is what the top 10 teams need in the final round:

  1. Munster: With a two-point lead at the top, a win over Ulster will guarantee them pole position. If they lose, and the Bulls, Leinster, and Glasgow Warriors win, they could slip to fourth.
  2. Bulls: A win over the Sharks and a Munster loss will give them first place. If they lose in Durban, and Munster, Leinster, and Glasgow win, they will finish fourth.
  3. Leinster: They can only repeat their top-place finish of the last two seasons if both Munster and the Bulls lose. With all the teams in the top four sitting on 12 wins, a try-scoring bonus point win will be imperative for Leinster as it could make the difference between second and fourth.
  4. Glasgow Warriors: They will be confident they can defeat Zebre but the difference in points differential could separate third from fourth, or even first from second, if both Munster and the Bulls lose.
  5. Stormers: The highest the inaugural champions and twice finalists can end is where they are now, and because they have won more games than the chasing teams, the lowest they can end is seventh.
  6. Ulster: Like the Stormers, a win over Munster will see them at the very least hold their place. What is different to the Stormers is a loss could conceivably lead to them dropping out of the top eight. The solitary point that the Stormers lead them by makes all the difference to the scenario.
  7. Edinburgh: For Sean Everitt’s charges the objective is quite simple — they have to win away in Treviso or they could drop right out of the top eight. But the advantage Edinburgh have over the Emirates Lions and, for that matter, Connacht is that they have 11 wins to nine, so if they end level on points with either of those teams, they will finish higher.
  8. Benetton: A win will put Benetton through because they have more wins — 10 against 9 — against the only team that can pip them to a top-eight spot if they do prevail in Treviso, which is the Lions.
  9. Lions: The Johannesburg team needs to win with a bonus point against the Stormers. They have fewer wins than the Stormers so even if they do get five and the Stormers none, the Stormers will finish ahead of them as they will have the same number of points. A loss will see the Lions ruled out as they have fewer wins than the two sides currently tied with them on 49, Edinburgh and Benetton.
  10. Connacht: A full house of log points against Leinster will lift Connacht to 50, which is where they need to be to stand any chance. They will then have to hope that the Lions leave Cape Town without a point and that the loser of the game in Treviso doesn’t pick up a bonus point. They do have a marginally better points differential if that loser by less than seven happens to be Benetton. DM
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