Massive weekend for SA teams in final URC pool round

Massive weekend for SA teams in final URC pool round

A massive final round of United Rugby Championship pool matches awaits the South African teams this weekend, as the competition builds up to the playoffs early next month where the top teams will be chasing some silverware, as well as positions in the EPCR competitions next season.


The Stormers are hunting a top-two spot for a possible home semi-final, but their fate isn’t in their own hands, while the Sharks will be looking to rubber-stamp their place in the quarter-finals, and the Bulls will attempt to improve their log position for the easiest possible playoff.


This will also be the last throw of the dice for the Lions who will wrap up their 2022-2023 campaign after dropping out of the playoff race last week, although they still have European qualification to play for.


The Stormers be in action first when they take the field on Friday evening against Benetton in Stellenbosch (18h30), and the action continues on Saturday with a double-header in Pretoria, where the Lions will go up against Zebre Parma (13h00), after which the Bulls host Leinster (16h00). The Sharks face Munster in Durban (18h15).


The Stormers will be targeting a bonus-point victory against Benetton at the Danie Craven Stadium to keep alive their hopes of leaping back into second place on the standings for a possible home semi-final should they be among the last four sides standing. They are already guaranteed of a home quarter-final, but if they finish this round in third place, they will have to travel abroad if they advance to the semi-finals.


The Capetonians were displaced from second place by Ulster last week following their defeat against Munster. The Irish outfit from Belfast hold a one-point lead on the standings, so the Stormers are expected to give everything for a big win, as they play before Ulster, whose match against Edinburgh starts at 20h35 on Friday night.


The defending champions from Cape Town have a few factors counting in their favour, including a better winning record and home ground advantage, but they will be wary of the threat posed by Benetton, who still have a small mathematical chance of sneaking into the quarter-finals provided they register a big win.


Interestingly, the Stormers could help the Sharks if they beat the Italians, as this result will guarantee the Durbanites’ quarter-final spot before they take the field the next day.


With a superior attack which has seen the Stormers score 75 points more than Benetton and concede 126 points fewer, the home side will enter the clash as favourites, but the visitors will draw inspiration from their performance last week in which they went down fighting against the Sharks, losing by 43-33 in Durban.


The Lions will also enter their clash against Zebre Parma at Loftus Versfeld as favourites given the fact that the Italian outfit have lost all their matches this season and come off a heavy 78-12 defeat against the Bulls last week.


The Johannesburgers will also want to make up for their heart-breaking last-minute defeat against log-leaders Leinster last week – which dashed all hopes of them squeezing through to the quarter-finals following a brave comeback in the competition in the last few rounds – and to finish the season on a high note.


Zebre Parma will have to step up their defence, in particular, to create an upset, as they have the worst defensive record in the competition with 684 points conceded in 17 matches.


The Bulls will be desperate to return to their winning ways at Loftus Versfeld after going down in their last two matches on their home ground when they meet Leinster in a crucial match which will determine whether they remain on the bottom end of the top-eight, or they make a big jump as far up as fifth place for an easier playoff spot.


They will, however, be bracing themselves for a tough onslaught from Leinster, who showed their fighting spirit until the final whistle against the Lions last week which saw them maintain their unbeaten run in the tournament despite fielding a few young players.


The hosts will place a big emphasis on their defence this week with 140 points more conceded in the pool stages than the visitors, but they will back themselves on attack as the teams have been closely matched in that department.


The clash between the Sharks and Munster at Kings Park is expected to be a thriller as the stakes for both teams will be high.


Depending on the outcomes of the Stormers and Bulls games, the Sharks may enter the clash looking to seal their quarter-final spot or possibly improve their log position from eighth place for an easier quarter-final, while Munster will be determined to go big as they can still move into the top-four on the log.


With the KwaZulu-Natalians boasting a superior attack with 16 more points scored this season, and the team having registered only one less victory than Munster, the clash could prove to be a humdinger.


The Sharks, however, will be wary of the threat the visitors pose especially after they created one of the biggest upsets last week by defeating the Stormers on their home patch.


Match information:


Stormers v Benetton

Date: Friday, 21 April

Venue: Danie Craven Stadium, Stellenbosch

SA Time: 18h30

Referee: Hollie Davidson

TV: SuperSport


Lions v Zebre Parma

Date: Saturday, 22 April

Venue: Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria

SA Time: 13h00

Referee: Ben Whitehouse

TV: SuperSport


Bulls v Leinster

Date: Saturday, 22 April

Venue: Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria

SA Time: 16h00

Referee: Craig Evans

TV: SuperSport


Sharks v Munster

Date: Saturday, 22 April

Venue: Kings Park, Durban

SA Time: 18h15

Referee: Mike Adamson

TV: SuperSport

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