United Rugby Championship: Multiple playoff hopes to be shattered in penultimate round

Dylan Coetzee
Split with Connacht v Stormers and Ulster v Leinster.

Split with Connacht v Stormers and Ulster v Leinster.

The United Rugby Championship’s Race to the Eight is coming to an end with two games to go and 11 teams mathematically in the playoff picture.

Round 17 will be where some teams will have their playoff dreams smashed as others will likely punch their ticket for the quarter-finals.

Edinburgh (7) v Munster (3)

The Scots are in a far more desperate situation than their rivals in this one as they sit four points clear of ninth but level on points with eighth. Of course top eight is vital for the playoffs but remember if the Sharks win the Challenge Cup then whoever finishes eighth on the table will miss out on Champions Cup qualification making every point count for a team like Edinburgh.

That all makes it important for Edinburgh to find a result or risk losing out completely. Meanwhile, Munster has already secured knockout rugby and will now want to put pressure on the teams above them to try to guarantee up to a home semi-final should they finish second and make it that far in the playoffs.

Bulls (4) v Benetton (8)

Like Munster, the Bulls are also locked in for the quarter-finals but will be looking to see if they can jump up the table in the last two rounds. The prospect of travelling to Loftus Versfeld is daunting and no doubt the Bulls will be expecting to leverage that into a positive result.

For Benetton, they have done half their job on the South African tour beating the Sharks last weekend but risk falling out of the playoff race if they lose this weekend. The Italians need points of any kind to aid their cause as they don’t want their entire knockout prospects balancing on the last round.

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Ospreys (11) v Dragons (15)

The Ospreys are right on the edge so much so that even two bonus point wins to finish may not be enough. However, the Welsh side are still technically in the picture to fight for a playoff spot. All the side can do is get maximum points in both games and hope the ball bounces their way.

Lions (10) v Glasgow Warriors (1)

The Johannesburg men have been inspired this season but once again find themselves just outside the coveted top eight as they welcome the leaders to their historic stadium. Ultimately the Lions need to beat Glasgow to stay in the mix before they travel to Cape Town in the final round.

Glasgow on the other hand may have lost against the Bulls last time out but crucially claimed two bonus points to keep ahead of the pack. If they manage a win against the Lions it would conclude a very productive tour leaving them a comfortable final-round game against Zebre. One would think if Glasgow wins against the Lions they pretty much lock in the top spot.

Connacht (9) v Stormers (5)

It is now or never for the Irish province as a loss will send them tumbling out of contention while a win gives them a slither of hope before they travel to Leinster. Connacht has beaten Stormers in Galway in URC I and will take heart from that result. The players described it as a “cup final” and they were spot on. Biggest game of the season for Connacht.

The Stormers have a chance to secure their knockout pathway with a win this weekend which will take pressure off their derby with the Lions in the final round. The north has been a challenge for the side particularly in the beginning of the season and if they are to push for another title they will have to improve in that regard making this clash a good opportunity to prove they have grown. It will be a tough Galway battle for the Capetonians.

Ulster (6) v Leinster (2)

Ulster had the good news of Richie Murphy signing on as head coach for two seasons this week but definitely have the hardest finishing run-in of the lot with Leinster this weekend then Munster next. It sets up for a proper test of the club because if both games are lost it could mean they fall out of the top eight. This is where the big players need to stand up and deliver in crucial inter-pro derbies. Ulster needs something from this game.

Meanwhile, Leinster essentially traded top spot in the URC for a Champions Cup final as it stands but there is still the chance they can catch Glasgow should the Scots slip up. To catch the leaders Leinster will need to grab a full house of points in their last two which would have been the plan anyway. However, they must be careful as a Billy Burns-inspired Ulster pipped them in round nine earlier this season. Expect a gruelling derby!

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