A massive final round of Vodacom United Rugby Championship league matches awaits this weekend, as the competition builds up to next month’s playoffs where the top teams will be chasing silverware, as well as EPCR spots next season.
DHL Stormers v Benetton (6.30pm, Friday)Having been in second spot for so long this season, the DHL Stormers relinquished that all-important position with last weekend’s 26-24 defeat at home to Munster. They are now down in third, a point behind Ulster.
So the reigning champions have to beat Benetton in Stellenbosch and then hope Ulster lose at home to Edinburgh later in the evening. Finishing second is crucial as it secures home advantage for both the quarter-finals and the semi-finals in the playoffs. The Stormers will be presented with the SA Shield for the second year in a row after the game.
Ulster v Edinburgh Rugby (8.35pm, Friday)– and that crucial home advantage in the playoffs – for Ulster as they would finish above the Stormers on matches won if the two sides finish level on points.Any kind of victory would be enough to secure second place
They will be looking to make it five wins in a row in the URC, with a bumper crowd set to roll up at the Kingspan Stadium for what should be a memorable occasion.Lions v Zebre Parma (1pm, Saturday) This is Zebre’s final chance to avoid going through the entire league season without winning a game. As for the Lions, they will want to bounce back from last weekend’s dramatic home defeat to Leinster which ended their hopes of reaching the play-offs. This will be the opening game in a URC double header at Pretoria’s Loftus Versfeld. Dragons v Scarlets (4pm, Saturday) The first leg of another double header, this one at the Principality Stadium in Cardiff, with ‘Judgement Day’ returning to the famous ground after a break due to Covid.
Dragons haven’t won a game since mid-January, so Dai Flanagan will be eager to end the season on high against the team he previously coached. From the Scarlets’ point of view, they will be seeking to warm up in style for their big Challenge Cup semi-final at home to URC rivals Glasgow Warriors.
Vodacom Bulls v Leinster (4.00pm, Saturday)So, just one more hurdle for Leinster to overcome to go through the entire league season unbeaten, but it’s going to be a sizeable one for Leo Cullen’s young team at Loftus Versfeld.
The seventh-placed Bulls will be going all out for the win as they look to qualify for the Champions Cup. They may need to finish in the top six to do that, should either Benetton or the Scarlets win the Challenge Cup. So they will doubtless be looking for a bonus point win as they set their sights on Connacht and Munster above them.
Where the Bulls end up in the table will also determine where they travel to in the play-off quarter-finals on the weekend of 6 May.Ospreys v Cardiff Rugby (6.15pm, Saturday) The final league game of the season in Wales and it all comes down to this. It really will be Judgement Day for these two sides, with the Welsh Shield and qualification for the Champions Cup on the line.
Cardiff Rugby are four points clear and have won three more games. So to overtake them, the Ospreys must claim a bonus point win and deny Dai Young’s side a losing bonus. It’s been a positive few days for the Ospreys with the news that youngsters Jac Morgan and Keiran Williams have both signed new deals. Now Judgement Day will decide which European competition they will be playing in next season.Sharks v Munster (6.15pm, Saturday) As the table stands, the Sharks would miss out on Champions Cup rugby. They are in eighth place and that wouldn’t be good enough as the winners of the Welsh Shield would qualify for Europe’s elite event instead of them. So they will be seeking a victory and hoping that either the Bulls or Connacht slip up above them.
Munster, in turn, will be looking for a win to stay in fifth and absolutely nail down Champions Cup qualification, while a losing bonus point will be enough to secure the top six finish that should be enough to book their passage.Glasgow Warriors v Connacht (8.35pm, Saturday) Connacht really need a win to stay in the top six and remain on course for the Champions Cup with both the Bulls and the Sharks breathing down their necks. Defeat could well see them drop down to eighth spot which would see them competing in the second-tier Challenge Cup.
Glasgow have already nailed down a top four finish and a home quarter-final, but will want to end the regular season by maintaining their winning ways as they head into a Euro semi-final against the Scarlets and then the playoffs.
Photo: Willem Loock/BackpagePix