Munster’s loss to Toulouse in the European Rugby Champions Cup (ERCC) quarterfinals over the weekend will impact the South African teams’ efforts to seal a home semifinal in the United Rugby Championship (URC).
Munster are lying second on the URC log, level on points with the Stormers and Sharks but ahead of them on points difference, and they were set for a tough final pool match against URC powerhouse Leinster.
But with Leinster taking on Toulouse in their ERCC semifinal at Aviva Stadium this weekend, they could make it through to the competition final which is scheduled for the weekend after the URC’s final round of pool matches.
Having already sealed top spot on the URC log, Leinster could name a weakened team against Munster in their final pool match, potentially resting their stars ahead of the ERCC final.
This will be a blow to the Stormers, Sharks and Bulls’ hopes of finishing as high as possible and sealing a home quarterfinal.
The Sharks are up against it as they take on Ulster away in their final pool match next weekend, with Ulster turning out as favourites to triumph at home, which would see them move into the top four ahead of the Sharks.
Of the SA teams, the Stormers still have the best chance of making the top four, with the Western Cape side expected to pick up a win over Scarlets in their last pool game, which would see them finishing either second or third on the log.
The Bulls will also start as favourites in their final pool game against Ospreys, but if Munster, Ulster, the Sharks and the Stormers win, they will be unable to force their way into the top four.
The Bulls’ best chance of making the semifinals would be for Munster to lose against Leinster, which would then open the door for them to sneak into a home playoff spot.
It is thus set to be an interesting final weekend of pool action in the URC and could rest on whether Leinster reaches the ERCC final and what kind of team they will then name for their top-of-the-table clash against Munster.