Action packed weekend featuring all 16 teams in URC with eight live games ahead of knock-out stages

Premier Sports’ South African rugby expert Bob Skinstad looks ahead to a huge weekend of URC drama
TOP14 rugby on Premier Sports features live coverage of Castres v Perpignan

It’s the final weekend of the regular season in the United Rugby Championship with all 16 teams in action and every game live on Premier Sports in the last round of the pool stages with huge amounts at stake for teams in the top eight and below.

First-placed Leinster (62 points) are the only team in the Championship that know their fate and have a home quarter-final and the Irish Shield already secured.  Amongst the dramatic finishes set to play out this weekend are the crowing of the Welsh and Scottish/Italian Shield winners and with it the highly prized European Champions Cup place plus who will secure box office home quarter final fixtures by securing a top four URC position with Munster, Cell C Sharks, DHL Stormers, Ulster and Vodacom Bulls all in the running. Five games this weekend, all being shown live on Premier Sports, have direct consequences on the location of home quarter-finals.

The four South African teams who have been riding high in recent weeks at home travel North to the UK this weekend with Ospreys hosting the Vodacom Bulls (Premier Sports 2 from 8.05pm) in a highly-charged battle with the Welsh Shield crown for the hosts and a potential top four place for Bulls at stake on Friday evening. The same night there’s a huge clash between fifth placed Ulster against third placed Sharks at the Kingspan Stadium (live on Premier Sports 1 from 7pm).

Seen as one of the key contests of the weekend, it’s winner takes all in Belfast as victory will earn a home quarter final in the Final Eight.  And with the double Springbok forward dual of Ulster’s Duane Vermeulen up against Shark’s young Phepsi Buthelezi in this fixture it has all the makings of Friday night thriller.

Ulster have won all 5 previous home games they have played against South African opposition in the URC. The Cell C Sharks have won their last 2 fixtures against Irish opposition but lost on their only previous trip to Ireland at Munster in September.  Ulster have conceded the fewest penalties of any side in the competition (159) and have made 2,482 tackles in the URC this season – more than any other team. Ulster back-row Nick Timoney tops the individual tackling charts with 224.

On Saturday three big games dominate the day with a huge 1872 Cup showdown in the Scottish capital with live and exclusive UK coverage on Premier Sports as Edinburgh host Glasgow Warriors at BT Murrayfield (Premier Sports 1 from 5.30pm) with a Champions Cup place and Scottish/Italian Shield win at stake.

Both Scottish teams know if they lose and finish 8th in the table they will face Leinster in Dublin in the quarter-finals. Glasgow are level with Edinburgh on 50 points at the top of the Italian/Scottish Shield, so once again winner takes all in this Scottish derby. A draw is good enough for Glasgow Warriors who have won more games. Glasgow have won their last four fixtures against their Scottish rivals.

Scarlets will know what they need to do to win the Welsh Shield on Saturday evening in Llanelli as they host the DHL Stormers who are in fourth place and on equal points (56) with South African rivals Cell C Sharks with both hunting down a home quarter final.  DHL Stormers have won their last 7 URC matches (all at home) and their players top several of the individual rankings, with Zas leading the way for tries (10), Manie Libbok top for points (142) and Evan Roos out in front for successful carries (116) and defenders beaten (47).

To conclude the block-buster URC weekend, European finalists Leinster host rivals Munster (Premier Sports 2 from 7.10pm) on Saturday evening with second-placed Munster needing a big win to secure a home quarter final with four teams up close behind them and only three points separating 2nd and 6th.

From France, live TOP14 rugby rounds off the weekend featuring third-placed Castres at home to Perpignan on Sunday evening (Premier Sports 2 from 8pm).

It’s a star-studded line-up in the Premier Sports team bringing rugby supporters every second of live URC action this weekend:

    •    Benetton v Cardiff Rugby: Ian McKinley and Connor Morris
    •    Ulster v Cell C Sharks: Ross Harries, Andrew Trimble, Bob Skinstad, Stephen Ferris, Mark Robson, Paul Marshall
    •    Ospreys v Vodacom Bulls: Tom Shanklin and Eddie Butler
    •    Dragons v Emirates Lions: Thinus Delport and Eddie Butler
    •    Connacht v Zebre Parma: Darren Cave and Reggie Corrigan
    •    Scarlets v DHS Stormers: Ross Harries, Tom Shanklin, Bob Skinstad, Sean Holley, Rhys Ap William
    •    Edinburgh v Glasgow Warriors: Dougie Vipond, Jamie Richie, Duncan Weir, Chris Paterson, Jamie Lyall
    •    Leinster v Munster: Ross Harries, Rob Kearney, Michael Bradley, Bernard Jackman, Ryle Nugent
There are nine live rugby games right across the weekend to tune into on Premier Sports:
Fri 20 May Benetton v Cardiff Rugby URC: Live on Premier Sports 2 from 5.55pm
Fri 20 May Ulster v Cell C Sharks URC: Live on Premier Sports 1 from 7pm
Fri 20 May Ospreys v Vodacom Bulls URC: Live on Premier 2 from 8.05pm
Sat 21 May Dragons v Emirates Lions URC: Live on Premier 2 from 2.55pm
Sat 21 May Connacht v Zebre URC: Live on FreeSports from 4.55pm
Sat 21 May Scarlets v DHL Stormers URC: Live on Premier Sports 2 from 4.55pm
Sat 21 May Edinburgh v Glasgow Warriors URC: Live on Premier Sports 1 from 5.30pm
Sat 21 May Leinster v Munster URC: Live on Premier Sports 2 from 7pm
Sun 22 May Castres v Perpignan TOP14: live on Premier Sports 2 from 8pm

Premier Sports’ Bob Skinstad, the former Springbok captain, said the prize of a home quarter-final in South Africa and the opportunity to host big rugby crowds was even more motivation for this weekend.

He said: “What a weekend of rugby we have ahead on Premier Sports. For Sharks on Friday night they can finish in second place so they’ll be hoping Munster lose but above all will want to be in charge of their own destiny.

“I have been pleasantly surprised with the South African race to the finish, I was expecting some of it but not at so much of a gallop and with such high scoring games - I think they've shown an ability to adapt very quickly to home and away status.  I don’t expect any different this weekend; the beauty of URC is it’s just one bad night’s sleep and then you’re into it straight away.

“I have so much respect for Lukhanyo Am and how much space he creates for the people outside him. It’s a good example of what you need in an attacking back line and all of the South African back lines have had something similar. The Stormers have had a racy, pacey backline with Senatia up there in the leading try scorers and then at Sharks Aphelele Fassi and Am have been amazing. Am is incredible in terms of feeding the players outside him. The South African teams have scored more points because they are happy to run that ball.  They’ll know that what whatever happens a five-point win makes a difference for them.

“Qualifiers in the top eight may be done and dusted, but where the teams land up is seriously important for the home run-in.

“The South African stadiums are massive. I know there is a lot of talk with government about relaxation on Covid restrictions with the prospect of home quarters finals which means I promise you, if everything goes according to plan and the South African teams do get a home quarter final, there'll be 50,000 people cheering them on.

“The South African teams are fighting for that as their 16th man.   I see at least two of the South African sides being in the mix with maybe two Irish sides.

“It’s magnificent rugby to watch. It really is. The next few weeks will be outstanding.  The URC and management knew the huge possibilities of the clashes between the South African giants and the European giants. And now we're seeing it and now, at a quarter final level, we're going to see massive rugby games which are just as good as any other European competition that we're seeing. So I'm really excited. And I think that bodes super well for the for the future of this competition.”