United Rugby Championship: Five storylines to follow in Round 15 including the race for the play-offs
This weekend sees another fascinating round of the United Rugby Championship unfold in front of fans’ eyes and it is loaded with intriguing battles and clashes as the tournament heads closer and closer to the business end.
Ahead of Round 15, Planet Rugby highlights five storylines to keep an eye on this weekend.
South Africa’s coastal derby
The Stormers host the Sharks in Cape Town this weekend, only days after being confirmed as the primary tenant for DHL Stadium in Greenpoint. The news is massive for the club going forward and provides fans with great security.
Both sides will be missing key Springboks who are in a training camp to take a break from the rigours of matchday action and get some much-needed rest in a Rugby World Cup year.
Contrary to what one might think, the Stormers boast better depth outside of their key Springboks than the more wealthy Sharks do. However, the gap between the Durban side’s first and second-choice players is in some positions far too big, and Neil Powell’s side have been heavily relying on the powerhouses of Eben Etzebeth, Siya Kolisi and Ox Nche, amongst others, to get the job done.
Meanwhile, John Dobson has built such an impressive culture at the Stormers that has seen more players come in and excel rather than have areas of their game exposed.
Factor in the Stormers’ ridiculous home record in the competition that has only seen them lose one game back in 2021, and the odds are stacked against the Durbanites.
However, a derby is a derby, and the defending champions will have to ensure they give the Sharks the time of day, stick to their processes and continue their charge for a possible home semi-final spot.
Last string for the Lions
It’s been a rollercoaster of a season for the Lions, but one that has gone down more than it did up. The Johannesburg side started the season quite well, and it looked as if they would continue to grow and develop into a side capable of challenging for the play-offs.
However, it was not to be, as a poor run of results has kept them near the basement of the table. Off-field issues followed with drama on tour regarding food and jersey management, whilst wide reports suggested coach Ivan van Rooyen had lost the dressing room.
Add in the increasing pressure of very poor attendance at Ellis Park, and there is a union on the brink of collapse.
Now the side has the tricky task of travelling to Pretoria to face a Bulls side with more in them and looking to unlock their true capacity. Jake White’s men just about have the Lions’ number from one all the way through.
It will be a tremendously hard task for the Lions as they desperately need to string some performances together. Meanwhile, the Bulls have their eyes on a play-off spot and will certainly not be looking to go easy on their neighbours.
There will be fireworks at Loftus Versfeld, and it could make for grim reading for Lions fans.
With only four rounds of the regular season left, the race for the play-off spots is starting to heat up.
At the top of the table, Leinster are very secure and, without a blemish thus far, will likely finish at the summit meanwhile, Stormers and Ulster are fairly secure and will mainly be pushing for a spot below Leinster and, subsequently a potential home semi-final.
Below the trio is where it gets interesting. Glasgow Warriors have been brilliant of late at sitting in fourth. However, there is only 10 points difference between the Scots and Benetton in 10th place. In between that, there is Munster, the Bulls, the Sharks, Connacht and Cardiff, all vying for a place in the postseason.
Upon closer inspection around the cut line for the quarter-finals, there are a whopping six teams within eight points of eighth-placed Connacht, making for a fascinating run-in.
There is so much on the line regarding European qualification for next season thrown into the balance as well.
Every game, every point, every play. It all matters now in the URC.
Ospreys need to win
It was not long ago when the Welsh side found something and managed to click with majestic wins against Montpellier (twice), Leicester Tigers and almost Leinster in January, but have since not coped very well with losing stars to the Six Nations.
The side looked really good in the set piece in particular and began using that to leverage the game in their favour. Of course, everything changes when a team loses their most talented stars to international duty, but with only four rounds left, it doesn’t matter who is available as long as the Swansea men win.
They sit six points off Connacht and the play-offs, it is not out of reach, but it is now or never. Ospreys need to fly to Italy and come back with a full house of points.
Leinster set to continue their run
A seemingly permanent fixture in our URC storylines as the Irish side continues to add to their impressive run and are currently 14 on the trot, which is outrageous.
The scary part about this all is; who can really stop them? Six Nations or not, Leinster have an incredibly talented and well-drilled team. In some ways, it is unfortunate that the side maybe doesn’t get enough plaudits for their consistency because of just that; the rugby fraternity is so accustomed to seeing Leinster at the top of the pile.
Leo Cullen is a master tactician, and this team is purring right now, and as brave and impressive as Edinburgh are, there is no stopping the blue beast.
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