URC report: State of the SA teams ahead of home fixtures
If the Sharks, Stormers and Bulls make the most of playing at home they will have a good chance of reaching the playoffs.
The Bulls will want to make the most of playing the majority of their remaining URC games at Loftus Versfeld. Picture: Lee Warren/Gallo Images
The South African United Rugby Championship sides are officially over the halfway mark of fixtures and head into a favourable home run over their last eight games.
Heading into the final stretch, three of the four SA teams are well placed and in the running for playoff spots, with the top eight making the quarterfinals, if they can go on a good run over the coming two months.
Only four teams on the log have played less games than the SA teams, while the other eight have either played the same amount or one or two more, which also helps the local sides.
Here we take a look at the teams’ progress at the halfway stage.
The Lions are unfortunately the lowest placed SA team and probably already out of the running for the playoffs. They are third from bottom on the log with 12 points, having won just two of 10 games and are 14 points off the playoffs at the moment.
It would take a remarkable run of results for them to fight back over their last eight fixtures to make it into the top eight. However the Lions have a great chance to finish their maiden campaign well, with six of their last eight matches at home on the Highveld.
It will be a tough challenge for a number of overseas teams coming to face the Lions and they will be eager to get off to a strong start in their first home clash against overseas opposition next weekend when they take on Cardiff.
Remaining fixtures: Cardiff (H), Munster (H), Ospreys (H), Edinburgh (H), Sharks (A), Benetton (H), Dragons (A)
The Sharks are arguably SA’s strongest team, with a sizeable Springbok contingent and are currently the only local side in a playoff spot on 26 points in eighth place. The Sharks have however yet to really hit their straps in the URC so far, but have managed to pick up some good results, with five wins, a draw and four losses in their 10 matches.
They have a favourable home run with seven of their last eight games in Durban and have a great chance to get off to a solid start with matches against Scarlets and Zebre first up.
If they can start playing like the team that they are on paper they should be able to comfortably seal a playoff place when all is said and done.
Remaining fixtures: Scarlets (H), Zebre (H), Edinburgh (H), Dragons (H), Lions (H), Leinster )H), Connacht (H), Ulster (A)
The Stormers have been the form local team of late and despite their unfortunate loss over the past weekend against Connacht, still find themselves well in the playoff run in ninth place just two points off the Sharks. Although their unbeaten four match run finally came to an end, the fact that it was just by two points and that they should have probably won, means they shouldn’t lose too much momentum ahead of their home fixtures.
They also have seven of their last eight games at home in Cape Town and if they can play at the level that they have so far this year they should make the playoffs. They also have a perfect opportunity to get off on the right foot with matches against Zebre and Cardiff first up.
Remaining games: Zebre (H), Cardiff (H), Ulster (H), Ospreys (H), Bulls (H), Glasgow (H), Leinster (H), Scarlets (A)
After a poor start to the competition the Bulls have been steadily growing into it and their big bonus point win away against Zebre over the past weekend has brought them into the playoff hunt. They sit in 10th place on 23 points, just one off the Stormers and will fancy their chances of making a play for the knockouts over their final eight games, six of which will be at home.
With them hitting form at just the right time and the fact that overseas opposition are going to play on the Highveld, the Bulls will be licking their lips at the prospect of some big wins over the next few months.
However, it could become a tight race for the playoffs and their away match against the Stormers could become a shootout for which of the two sides can sneak into the top eight.
Remaining fixtures: Munster (H), Scarlets (H), Dragons (H), Ulster (H), Stormers (A), Benetton (H), Glasgow (H), Ospreys (A)