The DHL Stormers should be smiling because the Glasgow win coupled with their own gutsy victory over the Vodacom Bulls the next day, has put them in a comfortable position on the two battle fronts that concern them. It will take a bizarre sequence of results for them to be unseated as South African conference leaders, which means they are set to retain the SA Shield, and second position is starting to look more probable than possible.
The defending champions' lead over third-placed Ulster is now 10 points, which is a lot to make up even though the Irish team does have a game in hand - the postponed clash with the Cell C Sharks at in Durban this weekend - a match that now takes on extra significance not only for the DHL Stormers but also, and perhaps much more so, for the Vodacom Bulls.
Last year's runners up from Pretoria have now fallen out of the top four and apart from the top two, Leinster and the DHL Stormers, they are now also behind Ulster, Glasgow and Munster.
After a slow start to the season Munster, with a two game tour of South Africa set for the last rounds of the league phase of competition in April, have now joined Glasgow and Ulster in being a threat to the South African goal of repeating last season’s feat of getting two teams into the top four.
Like Glasgow, who continue to impress under the coaching of Franco Smith and are now proper dark horses for the trophy, Munster have picked up impressive momentum in the last two months. They’ve gone from at one stage being third last to fifth, and it has all happened in the relative blink of an eye as the Irish team start getting used to life under new coach Graham Rowntree, who replaced South African Johann van Graan in the off season.
Munster’s latest victims were the Ospreys, and not just by a little bit either. They ramped up a score of more than 50, which will be a big confidence booster for them heading into the last four rounds of the league season.
It was a record win for Munster against the Ospreys, who were admittedly without their Welsh internationals and that might explain the depths to which they plummeted after an impressive run recently after scoring some big upsets in the Heineken Champions Cup.
With Cardiff dealing fairly comfortably with Benetton on Saturday, the Ospreys have now fallen behind in the Welsh Shield race. The five points Cardiff picked up against the zero managed by Ospreys is now the difference between the teams, with Cardiff now ninth overall and Ospreys 12th.
While the Welsh are struggling, the Irish are suddenly flying, with Connacht joining Leinster, Ulster and Munster in the top eight that will secure play-off qualification. If the log was frozen now, the playoffs would feature four Irish teams, three South African teams and one Scottish team.
The Irish Shield race was pretty much done and dusted before the weekend, the South African one is now looking the same, and they are joined amongst the almost certain conference winners by Glasgow. The Warriors' nine point lead over second-placed Benetton in the Scottish/Italian Shield is significant if you consider the Scots have a game in hand and that there are only four rounds to play.
Edinburgh, who were still in contention at the start of the weekend, have dropped further off the pace following an unexpectedly heavy away defeat to Scarlets, who appear to be playing with renewed confidence subsequent to their recent win over the Vodacom Bulls. The gap between Glasgow and Edinburgh is now 12 points, again with the Glaswegians having a game in hand.
That game in hand is Saturday’s clash with the Emirates Lions in Johannesburg (also postponed from round six), which along with the Ulster game against the Cell C Sharks will have the other two local teams desperately hoping for South African wins. Losses for Ulster and Glasgow will certainly help the Vodacom Bulls, who play their next game against the Emirates Lions at home in a fortnight from now.
Weekend Vodacom United Rugby Championship results
Glasgow Warriors 17 Ulster 11
Munster 58 Ospreys 3
Emirates Lions 7 Cell C Sharks 29
Vodacom Bulls 19 DHL Stormers 23
Zebre 34 Connacht 57
Cardiff Rugby 30 Benetton 13
Scarlets 42 Edinburgh 14
Leinster 43 Dragons 14
Next Vodacom URC fixtures - Saturday, 25 February
14h00: Cell C Sharks v Ulster (Durban)
16h10: Emirates Lions v Glasgow Warriors (Johannesburg)