URC – A Weekend Of Big Shifts In Vodacom URC Table Battle


A round dominated in South Africa by the seismic derby between the Vodacom Bulls and the DHL Stormers at Loftus brought some significant shifts in the log situation as we start the countdown to the sharp end of the Vodacom United Rugby Championship season.

While the Stormers’ defeat in Pretoria saw them drop from fifth to ninth, which puts them currently outside of the Investec Champions Cup qualification and URC playoff placings, the Bulls profited from their five-point haul against their arch-rivals and the Glasgow Warriors’ failure to get a try-scoring bonus point against Benetton to lift to second.

The biggest moves though were made by the three Irish teams that were on the borderline of the top eight at the start of the weekend. Champions Munster, ninth before they beat Zebre with a bonus point on Friday night, lifted to sixth; Ulster without their sacked coach Dan McFarland for the first time, settled their nerves by doing the same to the Dragons to go to fifth, and Connacht’s win over Scarlets in Galway took them back into the top eight, from 10th to seventh.

In assessing the climbers and their achievements, you also have to take note of something else - the fourth, fifth and sixth-placed teams all have the same number of log points, 34, so you could say Ulster and Munster have lifted to fourth. And Connacht are just one point behind them, so there is all to play for when it comes to the jostling for top four places.

Even the Stormers shouldn’t feel too despondent about their fall to ninth - they are just four points, meaning one win, behind fourth-placed Edinburgh, and they just happen to play Edinburgh next. The game will be played in Cape Town, where the Stormers boast a formidable record and have only been beaten by Munster (twice) in the URC since they lost their first-ever URC match at the stadium against the Emirates Lions in December 2021.

Talking about the Lions, their bonus point win over the Hollywoodbets Sharks has put them strongly back in contention for a top eight finish. The Johannesburg team is on 29 points in 11th place, just one point behind the Stormers and three behind eighth-placed Benetton, who in the space of just two rounds have dropped six places. That’s an indication of how close it is, and even a top-four position is in sight for the Lions if they finish the season strongly for they are just five outside of the top four.

A top-eight finish could introduce the prospect of a Gauteng derby in the quarterfinal round, something that Jake White, coach of the high flying Bulls, would probably rather not countenance. But that’s all in the future, and the log table is so jammed up that it is almost impossible to predict the outcome when the league phase of the season winds down in early June.

What we do know is that the Bulls have rebuilt Loftus back into a fortress with their win over a Stormers team that won in Pretoria in their last two visits. The Bulls are four behind Leinster, who they play in their second match in a two-game mini-tour (their other opponents are the Dragons) at the end of the month.

The Bulls’ chances of finishing at least in the top two are excellent, for they have a sequence of home games at Loftus to come after their tour. With their home game against Edinburgh being followed by one against Ulster, both teams in the race for top four spots, the Stormers could be in the top four by Easter.

That scenario would obviously please most South African fans as it would mean there’s a good chance of two games on South African soil in the first week of the Finals Series, and it should also please White, who would probably rather not have to play the Stormers in another quarterfinal, even if this time the game would be on his team’s home ground.

But for now, it is the Irish who are rallying, and it is Edinburgh, courtesy of a hard-fought home win over the Ospreys, who join the likely top three in the much coveted top four bracket. The Edinburgh game, won by just four points, was the only close one, with the South African derbies not being the close affairs most would have predicted.

Although there is only one local team in the top eight, it was a weekend that underlined the healthy position South African rugby finds itself in subsequent to the decision to switch to the URC from Super Rugby. The crowd of 50,000 that turned up at Loftus to see a top-quality game despite the conditions would have been unheard of in the last years of Super Rugby before the intervention of Covid and even the Lions/Hollywoodbets Sharks game in Johannesburg appeared to be played in front of a better crowd than that venue has hosted recently.

With the next derby fixtures scheduled for the final round of the league phase, now comes a period where we will see how much draw the games against overseas opponents will have. The signs are good, for more than 10 000 people have already bought tickets for the Stormers’ round of 16 Investec Champions Cup game against LaRochelle more than a month from now and there has been similar interest in the more immediate URC visits by Edinburgh and Ulster.

With Munster and the Glasgow Warriors set to come to Loftus, and Ulster’s revival set to be tested by the Sharks in Durban in the next round, there are some big URC games with potentially huge crowds for local fans to look forward to.


Weekend Vodacom United Rugby Championship results
Munster 45-29 Zebre
Edinburgh 19-15 Ospreys
Emirates Lions 40-10 Hollywoodbets Sharks
Benetton 09-19 Glasgow Warriors
Vodacom Bulls 40-22 DHL Stormers
Connacht 26-10 Scarlets
Cardiff Rugby 20-33 Leinster
Ulster 49-26 Dragons