URC winners and losers: ‘Dark horses’ Lions continue to surprise as Ulster’s ‘Benjamin Button’ comes to their rescue

Jared Wright
Edwill van der Merwe of the Lions and Ulster's John Cooney.

Check out our winners and losers from the weekend's URC action.

After yet another superb round of action in the United Rugby Championship, we pick out our winners and losers.

Round 17 of the URC saw plenty of change in the standings with six teams securing their place in the play-offs, while five further sides remain in the running.



A red card to flanker Ruan Venter threatened to derail the Lions’ URC play-off run, but Ivan van Rooyen’s charges refused to be written off that easily, running in six tries in a stunning 44-21 victory over the Glasgow Warriors – who started the weekend as league leaders.

The Lions have been dark horses all season and they have relentlessly stuck to that script. They have a huge challenge awaiting them in Cape Town next weekend, but write them off at your own peril.

Ulster and John Cooney

Ulster scrum-half John Cooney likens himself to Benjamin Button as he continues to be a clutch player for his side this time around downing his former employers with a match-winning penalty.

Cooney’s kick sealed the remarkable season double over Leinster for Ulster and sealed their route into the URC play-offs. It’s been a rather mixed season for Ulster with Dan McFarland shown the door and Richie Murphy coming in to see the campaign out.

John Cooney robs Leinster of top spot with a late penalty to win Inter-Pro classic for Ulster

Stormers and Manie Libbok

The inaugural URC champions all but booked their place in the play-offs for a third successive season with a nervy 16-12 victory over Connacht. Galway is one of the most challenging places to claim a result at, and while a bonus-point would have sealed their place in the top eight, they now need just one point from their final game of the regular season against the Lions in a fortnight’s time.

It was by no means pretty for John Dobson’s charges, but fly-half Manie Libbok rose to the occasion with a player of the match performance, nailing four kicks at goal for an 11-point tally and assisting Angelo Davids’ try. The pivot’s BMT is constantly questioned, but he didn’t shy away from the spotlight this time around.


Perhaps the biggest winners of the weekend as the province jumped from third to first on the overall log after downing Edinburgh 29-26 in the Scottish capital on Friday evening. Graham Rowntree’s charges claimed the hard-fought bonus point victory and moved to the top of the table after Glasgow Warriors and Leinster suffered defeats.

It’s hard to think how the weekend could have gone better for Munster.

Antoine Frisch stars as Munster beat Edinburgh to move top of the United Rugby Championship


Stay with us on this one. The Italians may have fallen to a 56-35 defeat to the Bulls in Pretoria, but crucially, they managed to come away from Loftus Versfeld with a try bonus point. Things threatened to go utterly pear-shaped around the hour mark as they trialled 48-21 but Alessandro Garbisi’s score sealed the point that has crucially kept them in the running for one more week. It now sets up a potentially straight shootout with Edinburgh in the final round of action.


The Irish province do feature in the losers too but Leo Cullen’s side are winners in the sense that they were able to get minutes in the legs of key players returning from injury before the clash against Toulouse.

James Ryan and Hugo Keenan got a full 80 minutes under the belt, with the latter producing a wonderful try assist while the latter was quickly back to his high standards, racking up 19 tackles.

The likes of Cian Healy, Ronan Kelleher, Mike Ala’alatoa and Jack Conan all got crucial starting minutes under the belt and while it was not the result of the match that they would have wanted, it was crucial that these players got time in the saddle.


The Welsh outfit won for just the fourth time in the URC this season, defeating Zebre 32-18 in Parma on Friday evening. It’s been a tough season for Dwayne Peel’s side, but with a derby against the Dragons coming up, they could finish a lowly campaign on a high note.


Year three of the URC may just be the best one yet, as predictions that it would not last long look incredibly silly in hindsight.

Heading into the final weekend, several teams have yet to seal their place in the playoffs, and while the top four are wrapped up, their final seeding positions are not.

There is just a five-point difference between fifth and ninth making for a thrilling finish to the regular season.



Started the weekend in second but finished in third after a narrow loss to Ulster in the final game of the round. With the Investec Champions Cup final against Toulouse up next, the risk of fielding a first-choice team was far too high, and Charlie Ngatai and Tommy O’Brien’s early injuries only emphasised that point.

Still, Leinster now run the risk of not having home play-off matches right to the final.

URC WRAP: ‘Dead proud’ Munster, Lions ‘blonde bombshell’ stars, clutch Cooney and six seal play-off spots

Glasgow Warriors

There was no late comeback to snatch a bonus point this time around for Franco Smith’s Glasgow Warriors as they succumbed to a 44-21 defeat to the Lions in their second match on the highveld.

Leaving Ellis Park empty-handed means that Glasgow dropped to fourth in the standings but they will host at least one play-off match with the Stormers unable to surpass them and leap into the top four.

In two weeks’ time, they may be able to reclaim a top-two finish, but they could have made their job a whole lot easier against a 14-man Lions side.


Connacht are one of five teams still in the running for the final two play-off places that are up for grabs but, with a trip to Leinster finishing off their season, the odds are stacked against them.

Peter Wilkins’ side did not die trying this weekend, though, pushing the Stormers all the way with Libbok’s penalty deciding the result.


One win from 17 is not a pretty record as the Italians limp to the end of the season after suffering their 15th defeat of the URC season to the Scarlets.

Zebre promised so much at the start of the season but delivered so little. Perhaps the change of management for next season will finally result in an upswing in results.


Dragons boss Dai Flanagan was left “depressed” as his side fell to a 26-13 loss to the Ospreys.

“I can’t believe the scoreline because I am very depressed after a 26-13 defeat when we could have had Sean Lonsdale, Sio Tomkinson over the line, but it wasn’t a great performance from us,” he said after the match.

It was a difficult watch for the Dragons’ fans as Flanagan’s side conceded 20 penalties in the match, with Dane Blacker and Aaron Wainwright visiting the sin-bin.

READ MORE: 14-man Lions stun Glasgow Warriors to stay in playoff race while Ospreys pip Dragons to stay alive