Ulster’s hard-fought victory over Edinburgh brought an enthralling penultimate round of Vodacom United Rugby Championship (URC) league action to a close. Ensuring the three South African clubs in contention for Europe next season’s entrance.
Ulster’s victory ensures that when the South African sides travel to the north for the final round of fixtures three weeks from now. All three of them – the Cell C Sharks, DHL Stormers, and Vodacom Bulls – will be above the two Scottish sides in the overall log.
And, with three points separating them from the Bulls, the third Scottish team, the fact that the Scottish teams will meet in their return derby at Edinburgh’s DAM Health Stadium ensures that only one Scottish team will qualify for the Champions Cup.
The eight top teams on the overall log proceed to the URC play-offs, which will occur in late May or early June. While the four Shield winners — Ireland, Scotland/Italy, Wales, and South Africa – qualify automatically for the Champions Cup alongside the four following best teams. And you can wager on OKBET sportsbook for your favorite teams and player.
The Emirates Lions withdrew from the Champions Cup and play-offs some time ago.
The ambition for the other South African sides to qualify for rugby’s equivalent of soccer’s Champions League has always been to finish ahead of either the third Irish team or the second Scottish team.
With one round remaining, that aim has complete, and the last round Scotland derby is now all about which of the two Scottish teams advances to the lucrative Champions Cup next season.
As with all of the games this past weekend, the Edinburgh/Ulster match was brimming with interest. Despite the low scoring, it was fascinating throughout the 80 minutes as Ulster took an early lead and Edinburgh attempted to respond. Edinburgh suffered their first home defeat of the season. With their previous setback coming in a draw to the Stormers last October.
Regarding the Stormers, their victory over Leinster but lack of a bonus point means that the local teams enter the final weekend almost well-matched in the battle for the Shield. The two coastal clubs, the Sharks and the Stormers are now so evenly matched that they share the same points difference. The Sharks are only slightly ahead of their local rivals on the log due to their superior win total (the Stormers have two draws on their record).
However, this won’t be very sensible unless both teams draw on the last weekend, and both teams would have to go all-out for a victory. The Sharks appear to have the more difficult assignment ahead of them as they travel to Belfast to take on Ulster at the Kingspan Stadium, a stadium where Ulster rarely loses. And Ulster ended their recent losing streak with a narrow victory over Edinburgh.
Their failure to earn a bonus point assisted the other sides in vying for second place on the overall log.
Ulster is presently fifth, one point behind the Sharks, Munster, and Stormers, who all have 56 points, with Leinster already secured first place with 62 points, six more than the chasers.
While the Sharks will travel to Ireland, the Stormers and Bulls will travel to Wales to face the Scarlets and Ospreys, respectively, and what this round of fixtures has established is that both teams will have something to play. The Ospreys ended the Scarlets’ recent solid winning streak with a 54-36 victory. Moving them to within five points of the Scarlets in the Welsh Shield standings with a game in hand.
That game in hand is against Dragons, who defeated Zebre Parma for the first time in almost a year over the weekend.
Which of Wales’ two best teams is the more powerful? It’s difficult to tell, considering the Ospreys won at home, but the Ospreys return to form. The return of their talisman Alun Wynn-Jones will make life more difficult for the Bulls than they anticipated. The Bulls still have a chance to win the Shield and move into the top four if the other clubs falter.
One advantage the Stormers have is that their match at Parc Y Scarlets is the competition’s last league game. Which means they will know what they need. Apart from the Sharks’ trip to Ulster. The only club tied for second place in the table is Munster, who concludes their campaign with a challenging road derby against Leinster. Munster returned to contention with a convincing win against Cardiff at Thurmond Park.
Scarlets’ loss to the Ospreys eliminates them from qualification for the URC playoffs, leaving Leinster, Munster, Sharks, Stormers, Ulster, Bulls, Glasgow Warriors, and Edinburgh as the eight playoff teams, with the order to be decided the conclusion of the final round. For updates in URC and other sports-related, you can check out OKBET.