State of play: SA’s URC teams target playoff spots
The Stormers, Sharks and Bulls are all in the running to make the quarter-finals.
The Stormers are well placed to make the quarter-finals of the URC this season. Picture: Lefty Shivambu / Gallo Images
The South African United Rugby Championship franchises are officially in the business end of the competition with just three pool stages left before the knockout phase takes over.
The Stormers, Sharks and Bulls are all in the hunt for a top eight finish, which would secure their spot in the quarterfinals, while the Lions are unfortunately out of the running and will just be looking to end their season on a high.
The SA franchises each have two more home games, which they will be aiming to maximise points from, before closing out their pool campaign with an away match in Europe.
Here’s what to look forward to in the coming weeks.
The Stormers find themselves in pole position in the South African conference and fifth on the overall log, equal on points with fourth placed Munster. With just three points separating Ulster in second and the Stormers in fifth, they are in contention for a top four finish, but they face a tough run in.
First up will be the third placed Glasgow Warriors at the Cape Town Stadium on Friday night and if they can pick up a solid win over them it would put them firmly into the top four, as Ulster and Munster face each other also on Friday night.
Stormers run in: Glasgow (H), Leinster (H), Scarlets (A)
The sixth placed Sharks find themselves just a point off the Stormers and Munster above them on the log, but face a very stiff run in, in which their credentials as South Africa’s strongest team on paper will be tested.
Although they haven’t yet played at their potential, they have started picking up some good momentum ever since losing to Edinburgh three games ago.
However the face tournament favourites and table toppers Leinster at Kings Park on Saturday, which will definitely give them an indication of exactly where they stand in the competition. However, even if they do come unstuck against the Irish powerhouse, just one win in their last three games should be enough to seal a top eight place.
Sharks run in: Leinster (H), Connacht (H), Ulster (A)
The Bulls missed a great opportunity to set themselves up for a top four finish when they were edged by the Stormers in their last match, but with a fairly light run in they should easily be able to seal a top eight finish.
In eighth place on 43 points, the Bulls are most in danger of the chasing pack, but with Glasgow their biggest challenge in their final home match, they could finish their pool campaign with three wins on the trot.
They first face Benetton on Saturday afternoon, but on the rarefied air of the Highveld they should have no problem picking up a full house of points against the Italian side to entrench them in the top eight.
Bulls run in: Benetton (H), Glasgow (H), Ospreys (A)
The Lions proved they belong in this competition with an impressive run of four straight home wins against overseas opposition, including against powerhouse sides Munster and Edinburgh, but a disappointing loss to the Sharks in their last match set them back.
Despite being out of the running for the top eight they have a great chance of ending their season on a high if they can keep their unblemished home record intact. They face a tricky battle against Connacht on Saturday, but their previous performances on the Highveld should give them plenty of confidence to pick up another good win.
Lions run in: Connacht (H), Benetton (H), Dragons (A)