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United Rugby Championship

PREVIEW: 2023/24 URC – Round 17

There’s plenty to play for in the penultimate round of this season’s URC, with playoff places not yet secure. The Lions can still sneak in through the back door and host the Warriors this weekend.

Elrigh Louw of Bulls challenged by Alex Nankivell of Munster during the Vodacom United Rugby Championship 2023/24 match between Bulls and Munster at Loftus Versfeld Stadium.
Image: Samuel Shivambu/BackpagePix

There’s plenty to play for in the penultimate round of this season’s URC, with playoff places not yet secure. The Lions can still sneak in through the back door and host the Warriors this weekend.

Two women looking excitedly at cellphone

The Stormers and the Bulls and  can do the Joburg franchise favours with the Cape side in action away at ninth-placed Connacht while the Bulls host eighth-placed Benetton. The Hollywoodbets Sharks, meanwhile, are at home against Cardiff but have bigger fish to fry in the from of Gloucester in the Challenge Cup final next week. 

Friday 17 May

Zebre 21/20 | Draw 25/1 | Scarlets 8/10 (20:35)

Bottom-placed Zebre welcome 14th-placed Scarlets to the Sergio Lanfranchi knowing a win will see them leapfrog the Welsh outfit ahead of the final round. The hosts trail the men from Llanelli by just two log points after their drubbing in Edinburgh last week while Scarlets fell at home to Ulster last time out. This is set to be another tight one, but Zebre’s home support should ensure they increase their chances at avoiding the wooden spoon.

Verdict: Zebre 21/20

Honestly, this is probably one to avoid. But if you must have a bet, Zebre look decent value at a shade over evens. 

Edinburgh 31/20 | Draw 20/1 | Munster 11/20 (20:35)

Edeinburgh (+3.5) 17/20 | Munster (-3.5) 17/20

Seventh-placed Edinburgh are within touching distance of the play-offs but will be severely tested by this Munster side at the DAM Health on Friday. Sean Everitt’s men are out of the running for a home quarter-final but will be determined to finish as high up the table as they can ahead of the knockouts.

Third-placed Munster’s big win over Connacht a week ago was their third in succession, and they’ll be full of confidence. Sitting one place and two points ahead of the Bulls, things are tight as ever, but they could meet their match against a determined and dangerous Edinburgh side here.

Verdict: Edinburgh (+3.5) 17/20

I actually think that the Scottish outfit could sneak the win here, but I prefer the extra security afforded by the 3.5-point handicap instead. 

Saturday 18 May

Bulls 1/20 | Draw 33/1 | Benetton 9/1 (14:00)

Bulls (-19.5) 17/20 | Benetton (+19.5) 17/20

The Bulls are fourth but will be eager to maintain the pressure on those above them with a bonus point win on the Highveld. Jake White’s men have been in imperious form this season and look likely to be South Africa’s best chance at securing this year’s title, and given their lofty ambitions Benetton may find themselves outgunned in Pretoria.

The Treviso club edged the Sharks by a point in Durban last week but would do extremely well to back that up with another on Saturday. They’ve got plenty to fight for sitting in eighth, but the Bulls at Loftus will just be too good.

Verdict: Bulls (-19.5) 17/20

The Bulls should run riot at Loftus. 

Ospreys 1/12 | Draw 28/1 | Dragons 7/1 (16:00)

Ospreys (-15.5) 17/20 | Dragons (+15.5) 17/20

11th-placed Ospreys’ play-off ambitions may have passed them by, but they will still look to finish their season on a high by securing the Welsh Shield. Currently, they’re two points better off next-best Cardiff and will look to take a step closer to realising that goal with victor over eastern rivals Dragons.

The visitors are 15th with just three wins and remain in danger of finishing last come season’s end. Derby games are traditionally closer affairs, and they performed well against the Stormers last week, but they should ultimately come unstuck.

Verdict: Dragons (+15.5) 17/20

The Dragons should go down here, but not by more than 15 points. 

Lions 92/100 | Draw 20/1 | Glasgow 93/100 (16:05)

The Lions playoff dreams are hanging by a thread, with last week’s 34-13 defeat of Cardiff placing them 10th, four points off the top eight. While they will need other results to go their way, a bonus point victory over the log leaders in Joburg would be a major boost for them.

It won’t come easy though, with Warriors earning an impressive two losing bonus points at Loftus a week ago to remain in pole position, albeit now just a single point ahead of Leinster. The strength of Franco Smith’s side has made this clash at Emirates Airline Park even trickier to call, but one would think the hosts will have enough to edge it.

Verdict: Lions 92/100

This is honestly to close to call with any degree of certainty. If the Lions are at their best, they should be able to get over the line against the Scottish outfit. 

Connacht 39/20 | Draw 20/1 | Stormers 43/100 (18:05)

Connacht (+5.5) 17/20 | Stormers (-5.5) 17/20

Connacht dropped more points at Thomond Park last week and are now ninth and four points off those play-off berths. Peter Wilkins’ troops can potentially end the weekend in eighth with victory here though over a Stormers outfit that were made to work hard for their win over Dragons last week.

Though a top-four spot may be out of reach, John Dobson’s men will want to hang on to fifth with the rest of the top eight within striking distance. They’ll find the going tough in Galway though and could fall prey to this hurting Connacht outfit.

Verdict: Connacht (+5.5) 17/20

I like Connacht to win on the board, but like the 5.5-point plus even more!

Hollywoodbets Sharks 74/100 | Draw 20/1 | Cardiff 23/20 (18:15)

Sharks (-2.5) 17/20 | Cardiff (+2.5) 17/20

The Sharks added their recent loss to Benetton in Durban to their long list of disappointing results this season, but victory in next week’s Challenge Cup final would make it all redundant. Up against Cardiff on Saturday, a side level on points but one place below them, John Plumtree will be mostly hoping for his players to come through with a clean bill of health as they finalise their preparations for that showdown at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

Although Cardiff have many strengths to their game, the reality is they aren’t good enough to win against a Sharks team on the rise, and should be beaten convincingly.

Verdict: Sharks (-2.5) 17/20

Even with a few expected tweaks to the run-on XV, I still expect the Sharks to clear a very modest handicap at the Tank. 

Ulster 93/100 | Draw 20/1 | Leinster 94/100 (20:35) 

Ulster are sixth but can’t afford to rest on their laurels with so many clubs breathing down their neck. They’ll take heart from their one-point defeat of Leinster in Dublin on 1st January and will be going all out to secure a rare double over their old rivals at the Kingspan.

Leo Cullen’s men, who have the small matter of a Champions Cup final with Toulouse next week to look forward to, are ranked second and trail leaders Glasgow by just one point. Theirs is an exceptionally professional and competitive unit but may still be vulnerable against an Ulster team with their undivided attention on Saturday’s clash.

Verdict: Ulster 93/100

With one eye on Toulouse next week, Leinster should fall prey to Ulster. 

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