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Munster becoming strong contenders to retain URC title

SPOTLIGHT: Last season one of the reasons the Munster success in the United Rugby Championship was seen as a fairytale was because they had to play all their play-off games at home, but it looks likely they will have a much easier route to this year’s final if they get there.


Munster completed another successful trip to South Africa, this time one that netted a full house of all 10 available log points, when they comfortably beat the Lions in Johannesburg at the weekend. Coming a week after their unexpected win at Loftus, it meant the currently third placed team saw off the altitude bogey twice and that will give them a massive confidence boost as they head home for their remaining three league matches.

As many might have anticipated once it was learned that Leinster had an under-strength team in Cape Town for their clash with the Stormers, it was Glasgow Warriors who were the biggest winners in round 15 as they comfortably saw off Zebre in Parma and banked a full house of log points in the process.

That moved them four clear of Leinster, who completed their two-match tour with not even a solitary bonus point for their efforts. They started their tour with 54 points from 13 games and comfortably top. They return to Dublin on 54 points from 15 games, and with their second place now under significant threat from their big Irish rivals, Munster, who are just one point behind them.

Munster shocked Leinster away from home en route to last year’s final in Cape Town, but now have a fair chance of reversing the venue if the two teams are again to meet in the playoffs. Munster’s remaining games are against Connacht at home, Edinburgh away, and Ulster at home. Derbies are always tough and Edinburgh is good at home, but Munster proved in South Africa they are capable of winning anywhere and seeing off any challenge.

Leinster’s last three games are against the Ospreys at home, Ulster away, and Connacht at home – a very similar run into the end of the season as the one faced by Munster, which means there could be an intriguing finish. What makes it even more intriguing is the fact that Leinster face a Champions Cup semifinal and then a potential final in the two weekends when the other contending URC teams will be resting.

How being involved in two competitions and being at the business end of both will introduce the question of what selection Leinster might field in certain games. Certainly their performance against the Stormers this past weekend, while gaining the fringe players some much needed experience, did make a mockery of the old view that the second string Leinster team could be runners up in the competition behind their A team.


They aren’t quite as good as that, and it’s not beyond the realms of possibility they could get tripped up again in one of the remaining league games, which would benefit Glasgow and Munster, and maybe even the Vodacom Bulls, who are hovering on 51 points, just three behind Leinster.

They are seven behind leaders Glasgow, but they play Glasgow next at Loftus on 11 May. That is a game that could be even more big and important to the battle for ascendancy on the log as the recent Bulls game against Munster. The Bulls are currently six points clear of the Stormers in their quest for a top four finish and can pretty much make sure of it by beating Glasgow. At the same time they might wish to climb the log to avoid a possible derby meeting with the Stormers in their quarterfinal.

One thing in Leinster’s favour this year in comparison to last season, where it is a World Cup year meant that the playoff phase of both the Champions Cup and URC was unbroken, setting Leinster the task of winning five consecutive knock-out games if they wanted to win both competitions, this time the knock-outs are more staggered.

They play their Champions Cup semi-final this week and then have another fortnight of URC action before their potential appearance in the final on 25 May. Then there’s one more round of URC, a derby round, before going into the URC Finals Series in June.
The round 15 results hurt some teams that were assumed to be climbing up the log, most notably the two losers on the highveld, the Lions and the Ospreys, but there is still enough of a logjam to suggest that there are still 11 teams in the hunt for silverware with three round robin games remaining.


The Lions are the 11th-ranked team, with 39 points, but they are just five points, meaning one bonus point win, behind sixth placed Connacht, and six behind the Stormers. They host Cardiff in their next game on 11 May, while eighth-placed Benetton, also on 44 points like Connacht and Ulster, will be in Durban to play the Sharks the same day.

Ulster eased back into the top eight and contention for a top-four finish by winning a tight game against Benetton to start off what was another absorbing round of URC action that was concluded late on Saturday night by Connacht’s important seven-point win over the Dragons. There is scarcely a game these days that does not have something big on the line and that looks set to remain the case over the final three rounds.

Weekend United Rugby Championship results:

Ulster 38 Benetton 34
Scarlets 27 Sharks 32
Zebre 9 Glasgow Warriors 40
Bulls 61 Ospreys 24
Cardiff 7 Edinburgh 24
Lions 13 Munster 33
Stormers 42 Leinster 12
Dragons 27 Connacht 34

Top 12 log positions after 15 games

1. Glasgow Warriors 58 points, 2. Leinster 54 points, 3. Munster 53 points, 4. Bulls 51 points, 5. Stormers 45 points, 6. Connacht 44 points, 7. Ulster 44 points, 8. Benetton 44 points, 9. Edinburgh 43 points, 10. Ospreys 40 points, 11. Lions 39 points, 12. Cardiff 25 points.

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