Crunch time for SA teams in United Rugby Championship

Bulls' South African fullback Willie le Roux celebrates after scoring a try during the European Rugby Champions Cup Pool 1 rugby union match between Bulls (RSA) and Union Bordeaux-Begles (FRA) at Loftus Versfeld stadium in Pretoria

South Africa’s four United Rugby Championship teams will look to return to the field with a bang after a two-week break, knowing every result will count with only seven pool rounds remaining. Seen here: Bulls player Willie le Roux. Picture: Phill Magakoe/AFP

Published Mar 22, 2024


South Africa’s four United Rugby Championship teams will look to return to the field with a bang after a two-week break, cognisant of the fact that every result will count with only seven pool rounds remaining and only one domestic team currently in the top eight.

The second-placed Bulls are the only the team on the top half of the standings, but the Stormers and Lions trail the eighth-placed Benetton by only a few points, and should they register victories, and a few other results go their way, they could leap into the top eight – which will motivate them immensely as the tournament reaches the business end.

The Sharks, meanwhile, will have their work cut out to climb the table with only one win in 11 matches, although they will be driven by the fact that a win could possibly see them jump as high as three places.

The KwaZulu-Natalians will take the field first in an action-packed Saturday when they host Irish giants Ulster in Durban at 3pm, while the Stormers host Edinburgh in Cape Town at 5.05pm.

Connacht clash in Galway

Both Gauteng-based teams will be on the road, with the Emirates Lions taking on Connacht in Galway at 7.15pm, while the Bulls will battle it out with the Dragons in Newport at 9.35pm.

The Sharks will be determined to make the most of their home ground advantage to change their fortunes in the competition when they host Ulster at Kings Park, but they will be wary of the fact that they must deliver an effective performance all around as the fifth-placed Irishmen have been in consistent form winning seven of their 11 games.

The pressure will be squarely on the Durbanites who have struggled to close out a few tight games, which has seen them earn six losing bonus points, however, they will draw inspiration from the fact that they have put up a good fight at home, losing three of their matches by four points or fewer.

Adding to the Sharks’ motivation, they are closely matched to the opposition on defence, but they will have to sharpen up their attack, as Ulster have scored 79 points more in their 11 matches so far this season.

The Stormers, meanwhile, will be desperate to bounce back from their defeat against the Bulls after registering four wins in a row when they host Edinburgh at DHL Stadium. With the Capetonians trailing the Scottish outfit by only four points, a victory could see them leap back into the top eight.

The hosts will draw comfort from the fact that they remain unbeaten at home this season to add to their better attacking record than the visitors, but they will be mindful of the fact that the opposition have won two more matches and that they are high on confidence after coming off three wins a row, which will spice up the clash.

In the Northern Hemisphere, the Lions will enter their encounter against Connacht at Dexcom Stadium with confidence as they find themselves in a similar situation to the Stormers, trailing the home side by four points with two fewer victories in the pool rounds. However, the Gautengers boast a superior record on attack with only a few points separating the sides on defence. This all sets the scene for a thrilling match.

Connacht will enter the game with confidence after three morale-boosting wins in succession, but the Lions have done fairly well away from home, winning two matches, and earning bonus points in every other match for going down by seven points or less, which will boost their hopes possibly creating an upset.

Bulls on the hunt

A victory for the South Africans would also set them on the right course with another away game next week against the Ospreys in Wales.

The second-placed Bulls, in turn, will target a bonus-point win when they cross paths with the 15th-placed Dragons at Rodney Parade where they will be hunting their fourth win in a row.

In stark contrast to the Pretoria side, the Dragons have struggled to build momentum this season, winning only two of their 11 matches, with their defence in particular letting them down.

This is exactly what will tickle the Bulls, who currently lead the attacking statistics in the competition, with 389 points in their 11 matches to only 175 by the Dragons.

A full house of points for the Pretoria outfit will also ensure that they stay within striking range log-leaders, Leinster, who hold a narrow four-point lead over them, as they look to keep alive their hopes of possibly sneaking to the top of the table should Leinster slip up.