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Lions' historic Galway win sets up exciting play-off race

PREVIEW: The Lions produced what must surely rank as the performance of Round 12 by thrashing the proud Irish province in Galway.

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Not since Jake White took his Springboks there for a warmup game ahead of the 2007 World Cup in France has a South African team won in Galway.

However, the Lions comprehensively obliterated the fortress (38-14), and did so playing with 14 men from the 16th minute.

The Lions were described before their tour as heading into Mission Impossible territory but the beauty of the URC is that there’s not much that is impossible – and a close look at the log reveals an interesting story.

Connacht and Benetton have dropped out of the top eight bracket, they are still just one point behind the teams positioned sixth to eighth – Edinburgh, Ulster and the Lions – and only two behind the fifth-placed Stormers.

With the Stormers playing Ulster this coming weekend and Edinburgh heading to Durban to play a rejuvenated Sharks, there could be another seismic shift in the log, in either direction for the Cape team and those around them.

The South African teams all won comfortably, with the Sharks’ win over Ulster certainly helping the Stormers’ challenge, and there is now a distinct possibility we could see three local teams finish in the top four on the final URC log. That might sound fanciful until you note that the current inhabitants of the top four, not counting the Bulls of course, are set to come to South Africa between now and the end of the league phase of the season.

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Not only that, but the Glasgow Warriors and Munster have two games at altitude against the Lions and the Bulls to look forward to. Their aspirations for a top-four place will depend heavily on how they go on their respective two-match tours.

Leinster also have to play the Lions in Johannesburg in addition to going to Cape Town to play the Stormers.

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That Cape Town Stadium game will be a massive one, not forgetting that the Stormers drew away with a strong Leinster side last season.

But it won’t be as big as Friday night’s top-of-the-log clash between the log leaders Leinster and the Bulls.

The Bulls were sloppy against the Dragons and left it late to get their necessary four-try bonus point, but their coach Jake White did mix and match his selections a bit.

There will be an intense Bulls focus on the Dublin game, which White has long regarded as a litmus test for his men. Win away against Leinster and not only will the Bulls most likely go to the top of the log, but that result will also give them the confidence to go all the way in the competition.

The Lions may be eighth but they are just one point behind the fifth-placed Stormers, so it’s not a given that it will be the Stormers in the top four and not the Lions.

The Stormers have to go to Dragons and Connacht for their final overseas games, and everyone knows they don’t boast a good record north of the equator this year, but the Lions did show them how to beat Connacht in Galway.

Otherwise, they have a long run of home games to look forward to, culminating in a potentially decisive derby against the Lions in their last league match.

The competitiveness of this year’s URC was underlined by the bottom team, the Sharks before the round, beating Ulster, and how close Cardiff came to upsetting Glasgow at the Scotstoun.

The Ospreys, who stand in the Lions’ way in their last overseas match, are also still in top-eight contention, they are currently 11th and three points away from the bracket, and won’t have had their enthusiasm dented too much by their 10-point defeat to Munster.

URC Round 12 results:

Glasgow Warriors 17 Cardiff Rugby 13
Ospreys 17 Munster 27
Sharks 22 Ulster 12
Scarlets 16 Benetton 13
Stormers 43 Edinburgh 21
Connacht 14 Lions 38
Dragons 10 Bulls 31
Zebre 7 Leinster 31

URC Round 13 fixtures:

Friday, March 29

Leinster v Bulls
Dragons v Zebre

Saturday, March 30

Benetton v Connacht
Sharks v Edinburgh
Ospreys v Lions
Stormers v Ulster
Scarlets v Glasgow Warriors
Munster v Cardiff

Source: URC

 

 

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