Thumping win over Bulls has given Leinster the URC spark they needed

Kurt-Lee Arendse of the Bulls (C) runs with the ball during the United Rugby Championship (URC) final match between South African teams the Stormers from Cape Town and Pretoria Bulls at Cape Town Stadium

Leinster’s emphatic win over the Bulls in the plum match of the 13th round of the United Rugby Championship has set the Irish team up to continue the hold they have had on the top spot. Seen here: Kurt-Lee Arendse of the Bulls with the ball. Picture: Rodger Bosch/AFP

Published Apr 1, 2024


Leinster’s emphatic win over the Bulls in the plum match of the 13th round of the United Rugby Championship has set the Irish team up to continue the hold they have had on the top spot on the final log in the first two seasons of the competition.

Up until now the battle at the top was nip and tuck, with the Bulls very much within touching distance of Leinster, and Glasgow Warriors too. Leinster started the season poorly, registering a loss in the first round, when they had the misfortune of having to travel to the Glasgow home ground of the Scotstoun on a weekend where the Irish internationals were still recovering from the World Cup.

They also hit another bump when they were upset by Ulster during the festive season, and let’s not forget they also still have to come to South Africa, where they will face the Stormers in Cape Town and the Lions at altitude.

However, the power, efficiency and control that the full strength Leinster side exhibited in dispatching the Bulls sent out the message that the league battle is going to evolve as business as usual from here on. Glasgow Warriors’ five points picked up in a big win in Llanelli at the weekend keeps them in touching distance, the Leinster advantage being five points, but the gap on the Bulls has now been stretched to nine.

Critical tour of South Africa

Much will hinge on how Glasgow tour when they come to South Africa, and perhaps also the strength of the Leinster squad that comes here after what for them should be two Champions Cup playoff games. Munster are also set to come to South Africa, where they will play the Bulls and the Lions, so there’s much to play for still when it comes teams like the Stormers who are on the edge of the top four.

You do get the impression, though, after the job they did on the Bulls that the log race is Leinster’s to lose and that they will head into the jeopardy of the Finals Series in June once again with the top seeding. That hasn’t helped them in the past two seasons, with the Bulls and Munster taking turns at knocking them out in semifinals, but the top seeding will nonetheless be coveted.

As inevitable as Leinster’s pole position may appear, so the race for second is compelling and tight. Glasgow have a four-point advantage on the second-placed Bulls, but still have to come to Loftus.

The Bulls are two points ahead of Munster - who also have to come to Loftus. And fourth-placed Munster are just four points ahead of the team they beat in last year’s final, the Stormers. The visits of Munster and Glasgow, and for that matter Leinster, to South Africa are going to have a telling impact on the final standings.

And just how much of a negative impact a losing tour could have is something that Edinburgh and Ulster will both be able to tell you about. By clinching a losing bonus point in a low scoring yet absolutely absorbing clash with the Stormers in Cape Town, Ulster managed to hang onto eighth spot at the end of the Easter weekend.

Tumbling down the log

But Edinburgh left with nothing from their two match tour and like Ulster have tumbled down the log, in their case from fourth to ninth in the space of just two matches. The Stormers have gone in the opposite direction - they were ninth before the Edinburgh game and now after their wins over both Edinburgh and Ulster they are fifth and closing in on fourth.

The logjam from second to 11th has meant that each week is going to see big swings and every loss is potentially hugely damaging. Connacht followed up their big loss to the Lions in Galway the previous week by losing to Benetton in Treviso, although it was a close game, as was the one between Munster and Cardiff.

By failing to get over the line, the Welsh team have surrendered their chance of making it into the top eight, with the 11 points they need to make up on eighth placed Ulster with five games remaining now looking a bit much.

The other Welsh challengers, the Ospreys, are however suddenly sitting pretty in seventh place after their good win over the Lions in Swansea. Much for them will hinge on how they go in South Africa, with their next game being a tough away fixture against the Stormers in Cape Town.