Written by on April 4, 2024

Written by: Floyd Nkanyane


A week after the South African challenge in the Vodacom United Rugby Championship really started to fly and domination of the top four on the final log standings even became possible, it all came crashing down over Easter Weekend.

Well not quite. What crashed was the hope of top four domination. There wasn’t really a seismic shift to perception.

The Vodacom Bulls’ heavy loss to Leinster might have been a defeat of greater magnitude than might have been anticipated but no-one would have made them favourites to beat what is almost a full strength Ireland team, and one in a vengeful mood too, at the RDS Arena in Dublin.

Yes, the Bulls have won there before, but with the benefit of the exact science known as hindsight that previous Leinster experience of being blown out in the 2021/22 semifinal by the Bulls was exactly why they weren’t going to win this time. Forewarned is fore-armed and all of that. The Bulls served notice of their capabilities that night two years ago, and Leinster won’t have forgotten it.

With Glasgow Warriors and Munster both set to still come to South Africa to face the Bulls at Loftus, the Bulls’ quest for a second placed finish is still very much on despite the loss in Dublin. Their fate is in their hands – win those two games and beat a resurgent Hollywoodbets Sharks team in their final league game on 1 June and second place will surely be theirs.



What may have flown out of the window because of their failure to pick up even a consolation bonus point while conceding five is the Bulls’ chances of finishing top. Glasgow are still in it as they are within a bonus point win of that top spot but it is looking likely that Leinster will draw away from the rest and finish the league phase with a buffer, as has been the case in both previous seasons of the URC.

What has also flown out of the window after round 13 is the chances of South Africa getting three teams into the top four and thus securing three home quarterfinals. The big question hovering over the Emirates Lions has never been their ability to win a one-off but rather their inconsistency, and that question was answered in the negative as they failed to hit the same notes as they had against Connacht when the Ospreys were their opponents.

Let it be said that in both games played by the inland teams overseas this past weekend, they were blighted by what you could call home crowd influenced unconscious subjectivity from TMOs and referees. The Bulls had some rotten calls go against them, although in saying that maybe they shouldn’t have lost by quite as big a margin as they did, Leinster were at least 20 points better than them.

And the Lions too had what looked like a good try to Emmanuel Tshituka disallowed and that could have changed the game and led to a different result.



With the two inland teams tripping up it was left to the two coastal sides, the Sharks and the DHL Stormers, to fly the country’s flag. The Sharks were much better than their 10 point win over Edinburgh might suggest, and still seem to be suffering from white line fever. In the sense that they spend more time inside the opposition red zone than the number of points they get from those visits merits.

And you could also say the same about the Stormers, who were under intense pressure in the first half, when Ulster might have felt they were suffering white line fever due to their inability to convert pressure into points, but then were in complete control after halftime and yet butchered so many opportunities.

Ulster should have been a lot further than one converted try ahead at halftime and that was a win for the Stormers, but the momentum shifted so comprehensively in the second half that it shouldn’t have needed to go to the 74th minute before the hosts finally took the lead.

Not that it should bother the Stormers and their coach John Dobson too much, for maybe leaving it late like that might prove an injection to their confidence and morale. It is the rediscovery of their knack of winning the close ones that separates the current Stormers team from the one that lost games they should have won during their overseas tour last November.

When they lost to Cardiff in the dying seconds it was written that this didn’t look like being a season where the stars were going to align for the Stormers like they had in the previous two. But the Ulster game, which could have been lost before halftime such was the Ulster perfection when it came to holding onto possession, sent out the opposite message. Maybe those stars could just start aligning again when it matters.

The four points they picked up for”the win were invaluable to the Stormers’ quest for a top four spot, and there’s good reason to believe they will make it into that top four shortly. Although Munster have a four point advantage in fourth place on the fifth placed Stormers, It needs to be noted where Munster go next when the URC resumes after the two week break for the Investec Champions Cup round of 16 ties and quarterfinals. Which is Pretoria.

The Bulls’ advantage on the Storme”s is six points, so provided the Stormers can beat the Ospreys on the same weekend, the result at Loftus could end up benefitting them either way. If the Bulls lose, they will be vulnerable to the Stormers’ quest for a top four spot, but if they win then the Stormers could overtake Munster.

The Lions have slipped to 11th from eighth but are still just one point away from eighth spot so still have much to play for when they head into a series of tough home games against Leinster and Munster after they return from their EPCR Challenge Cup playoff fixtures.


Weekend Vodacom United Rugby Championship results:

Leinster 47 – Vodacom Bulls 14

Dragons 20 – Zebre 13

Benetton 18 – Connacht 14

Hollywoodbets Sharks 23 – Edinburgh 13

Ospreys 36 – Emirates Lions 21

DHL Stormers 13 – Ulster 7

Scarelts 3 – Glasgow Warriors 45

Munster 20 – Cardiff Rugby 15

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