URC – Week 12 Review


There’s been a lot of talk about how Italy’s recent good form in the Guinness Six Nations might impact Benetton’s challenge in the Vodacom United Rugby Championship but the returning cavalry was not back in time to prevent the Treviso team from suffering a telling setback.

Even under-strength, Benetton should have been expected to pick up the points for the win from their visit to Llanelli to play Scarlets in round 12. After all, Scarlets had only won twice in 11 matches before that. However, the Scarlets produced one of their best performances of the season to snatch a late win through an Eduan Swart try in the closest game of another absorbing round.

The defeat means that Benetton continue their downward spiral on the log. They were in the top four, indeed second, not that long ago, and now find themselves 10th heading into what could for them be a decisive game against Connacht on Saturday.

Connacht’s strong challenge was also significantly hurt at the weekend, with the Emirates Lions producing what must surely rank as the performance of the round by thrashing the proud Irish province in Galway. Not since Jake White took his Springboks there for a warmup game to the 2007 Rugby World Cup in France has a South African team won in Galway, but the Lions comprehensively obliterated the fortress and did so playing with 14 men from the 16th minute.

The Lions were described before their tour as heading into Mission Impossible territory but the beauty of the URC is that there’s not much that is impossible - and a close look at the log reveals an interesting story.

Although Connacht and Benetton have dropped out of the top eight bracket, they are still just one point behind the teams positioned sixth to eighth - Edinburgh, Ulster and the Lions, and only two behind the fifth-placed DHL Stormers. With the Stormers playing Ulster this coming weekend and Edinburgh heading to Durban to play a rejuvenated Hollywoodbets Sharks, there could be another seismic shift in the log, in either direction for the Cape team and those around them.

That they are still in the race for not only the top eight but even a place in the top four should up the ante for the two protagonists in Saturday’s game in Treviso. Another defeat will put Benetton well behind the eight ball, but if they win they are back in the mix and could go places if they find momentum when their first-choice internationals return. The same holds for Connacht, if they win in Italy then their shock defeat to the Lions can be regarded as an aberration.

The South African teams all won comfortably, with the Sharks’ win over Ulster certainly helping the Stormers’ challenge, and there is now a distinct possibility we could see three local teams finish in the top four on the final URC log. That might sound fanciful until you note that the current inhabitants of the top four, not counting the Bulls of course, are set to come to South Africa between now and the end of the league phase of the season.

Not only that, but the Glasgow Warriors and Munster have two games at altitude against the Lions and the Bulls to look forward to. Their aspirations for a top-four place will depend heavily on how they go on their respective two-match tours. Leinster also have to play the Lions in Johannesburg in addition to going to Cape Town to play the Stormers.

That DHL Stadium game will be a massive one, not forgetting that the Stormers drew away with a strong Leinster side last season. But it won’t be as big as Friday night’s top-of-the-log clash between the log leaders Leinster and the Bulls. 

The Bulls were sloppy against the Dragons and left it late to get their necessary four-try bonus point, but their coach Jake White did mix and match his selections a bit. There will be an intense Bulls focus on the Dublin game, which White has long regarded as a litmus test for his men. Win away against Leinster and not only will the Bulls most likely go top of the log, but that result will also give them the confidence to go all the way in the competition.

The Lions may be eighth but they are just one point behind the fifth-placed Stormers, so it’s not a gimme that it will be the Stormers in the top four and not the Lions. The Stormers have to go to Dragons and Connacht for their final overseas games, and everyone knows they don’t boast a good record north of the equator this year, but the Lions did show them how to beat Connacht in Galway. Otherwise, they have a long run of home games to look forward to, culminating in a potentially decisive derby against the Lions in their last league match.

The competitiveness of this year’s URC was underlined by the bottom team, the Sharks before the round, beating Ulster, and how close Cardiff came to upsetting Glasgow at the Scotstoun. The Ospreys, who stand in the Lions’ way in their last overseas match, are also still in top-eight contention, they are currently 11th and three points away from the bracket, and won’t have had their enthusiasm dented too much by their 10 points defeat to Munster.

 Results - Vodacom United Rugby Championship Round 12

Glasgow Warriors 17-13 Cardiff Rugby
Ospreys 17-27 Munster
Hollywoodbets Sharks 22-12 Ulster
Scarlets 16-13 Benetton
DHL Stormers 43-21 Edinburgh
Connacht 14-38 Emirates Lions
Dragons 10-31 Vodacom Bulls
Zebre 07-31 Leinster