The DHL Stormers, Cell C Sharks and Vodacom Bulls all booked their spots in the Vodacom United Rugby Championship playoffs with hard-fought home victories in the penultimate round of league action this weekend, while the Emirates Lions also finished their last home match of the season on a high.
The four South African sides scored 17 tries while conceding only nine on a weekend during which the traffic jam at the top of the standings became even more intense, with one round of matches left for the top sides before the quarter-finals early next month.
One thing is certain at this stage of the competition, and that is that Leinster will top the standings after they secured a losing bonus point against the DHL Stormers, who won a pulsating match in Cape Town against the Irish giants by 20-13, although the hosts missed out on what could still be a vital four-try bonus point.
All three other South African sides managed to bag a full haul of five league points in their final home matches. The Cell C Sharks beat Connacht by 41-21 in Durban to ensure the team from Galway could not get a whitewash against SA teams this season; the Vodacom Bulls were too strong for Glasgow Warriors (29-17) in Pretoria; and the Emirates Lions stormed back strongly to beat Benetton (37-29) in Johannesburg.
Ulster’s nail-biting 16-10 away victory over Edinburgh in the Scottish capital late on Saturday night blew the top of the standings wide open though, with only three log points separating positions two to six.
The top six on the log is dominated by teams from Ireland and South Africa. Leinster, on 62 points, will finish top of the pile in three weeks’ time, but the hosting rights in the other three quarter-finals can still go to any of the teams currently in positions two to six on the log.
Munster, the Cell C Sharks and DHL Stormers are all on 56 points, followed by Ulster (55), and the Vodacom Bulls (53). The final two spots in the top eight belong to Scottish sides Edinburgh and Glasgow, both on 50 points.
Scarlets, in ninth on 44 points, can’t make it into the playoffs anymore, and the Emirates Lions are currently in 11th on 37 points.
In their final league matches, the Cell C Sharks travel to Belfast to face Ulster and the Vodacom Bulls face the Ospreys in Swansea on Friday 20 May, and a day later, on Saturday 21 May, the Dragons host the Emirates Lions in Newport before the DHL Stormers and the Scarlets clash in Llanelli.
Vodacom Bulls outclass Glasgow for vital bonus-point win
The Vodacom Bulls scored four tries in a convincing performance against the Glasgow Warriors at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria on Friday evening in their final home game in the league phase of the Vodacom United Rugby Championship for a rewarding 29-17 bonus-point victory.
The win temporarily pushed the men from Pretoria from eighth place on the log into second place, as they ensured they remain in contention for the quarter-finals.
Vodacom Bulls 29 (17) – Tries: Zak Burger, Madosh Tambwe, Walt Steenkamp, Cyle Brink. Conversions: Morne Steyn (3). Penalty goal: Steyn.
Glasgow Warriors 17 (10) – Tries: Penalty try, Ollie Smith. Conversion: Ross Thompson. Penalty goal: Duncan Weir.
Emirates Lions’ second half surge too much for Benetton
The Emirates Lions finished their home fixtures in the first season of the Vodacom United Rugby Championship on a winning note with a 37-29 victory (half-time 15-22) over a plucky Benetton in Johannesburg on Saturday afternoon.
Former Junior Springbok flyhalf Jordan Hendrikse contributed 17 points and scored one of his team’s five tries, while Benetton’s South African-born fullback Rhyno Smith scored two of their three five-pointers and kicked three conversions for a 16-point haul.
Although they won comfortably in the end, it wasn’t plain sailing for Ivan van Rooyen’s team, who failed to convert some early opportunities to score, while allowing Benetton to take control of the match in the second quarter.
However, four tries in 20 minutes shook the visitors as the Emirates Lions accelerated in the second half as they grabbed their seventh victory of the season.
Emirates Lions 37 (15) – Tries: Ruben Schoeman, Morne van den Berg, Edwill van der Merwe, Stean Pienaar, Jordan Hendrikse. Conversions: Hendrikse (3). Penalty goals: Hendrikse (2).
Benetton 29 (22) – Tries: Rhyno Smith (2), Filippo Drago, Lorenzo Cannone. Conversions: Smith (3). Drop goal: Tomas Albornoz.
Stirring comeback hands Cell C Sharks deserving win over Connacht
The Cell C Sharks completed their regular home fixtures of the Vodacom United Rugby Championship with a resounding 41-21 comeback win over Irish outfit Connacht on Saturday afternoon in Durban, after scoring 31 unanswered points in a brilliant second-half display.
The hosts went into the halftime break 21-10 down following an error strewn first half which was highlighted by several individual errors and poor options.
Whatever was said during the halftime break inside their dressing room had the desired effect as the Durban outfit overturned a lacklustre first-half display into an excellent second-half response.
Cell C Sharks flyhalf Curwin Bosch kicked five conversions and two penalty goals for a personal contribution of 16 points, while impressive lock Gerbrandt Grobler scored two tries for the winning side.
Cell C Sharks 41 (10) – Tries: Gerbrandt Grobler (2), Marius Louw, Bongi Mbonambi, Le Roux Roets. Conversions: Curwin Bosch (5). Penalty goals: Bosch (2).
Connacht 21 (21) – Tries: Gavin Thornbury, Caolin Blade. Conversion: Conor Fitzgerald. Penalty goals: Fitzgerald (3).
DHL Stormers hold on to shut out Leinster
The DHL Stormers overturned a 6-3 halftime deficit to register a vital 20-13 victory against log-leaders Leinster in a thrilling Vodacom United Rugby Championship clash in Cape Town on Saturday, wrapping up a full house of wins for the South African sides in the penultimate round of league action.
Despite the victory, the Capetonians dropped from second to fourth on the log, tied with Munster and the Cell C Sharks on 56 points, but they are still in contention for a home quarter-final and possibly a home semi-final.
The first half was tight as both teams tried to stamp their authority but were unable to cross the try-line – although the DHL Stormers came close in the opening seconds, but the hosts will rue a number of missed opportunities in the second half, with a four-try bonus-point evading them in the end.
DHL Stormers 20 (3) – Tries: Warrick Gelant, Seabelo Senatla, Penalty try. Penalty goal: Manie Libbok.
Leinster 13 (6) – Try: Ed Byrne. Conversion: Harry Byrne. Penalty goals: Ciarán Frawley (2).