While the DHL Stormers’ defeat in Pretoria saw them drop from fifth to ninth, which puts them currently outside of the Investec Champions Cup qualification and Vodacom URC playoff placings, the Vodacom Bulls profited from their five point haul against their arch-rivals and the Glasgow Warriors’ failure to get a try scoring bonus point against Benetton to lift to second.

The biggest moves though were made by the three Irish teams that were on the edge of the top eight at the start of the weekend.

Defending champions Munster, ninth before they beat Zebre with a bonus point on Friday night, lifted to sixth; Ulster, without their sacked coach Dan McFarland for the first time, settled their nerves by doing the same to the Dragons to go to fifth; and Connacht’s win over Scarlets in Galway took them back into the top eight, from 10th to seventh.

In assessing the climbers and their achievements, you also have to take note of something else - the fourth, fifth and sixth placed teams all have the same number of log points, 34, so you could say Ulster and Munster have lifted to joint-fourth. And Connacht are just one point behind them, so there is all to play for when it comes to the jostling for top four places.

Even the DHL Stormers shouldn’t feel too despondent about their fall to ninth - they are just four points, meaning one win, behind fourth-placed Edinburgh, incidentally also their next opponent. The game will be played in Cape Town, where John Dobson's team boast a formidable record and have only been beaten by Munster (twice) and the Emirates Lions since they hosted their first match in the Vodacom URC in December 2021.

Talking about the Emirates Lions, their bonus point win over the Hollywoodbets Sharks has put them strongly back in contention for a top eight finish. The Johannesburg team is on 29 points in 11th place, just one point behind the DHL Stormers and three behind eighth-placed Benetton, who in the space of just two rounds have dropped six places.

That’s an indication of how close it is, and even a top four position is in sight for the Emirates Lions if they finish the season strongly for they are just five outside of the top four.

A top eight finish could introduce the prospect of a Gauteng derby in the quarter-final round, something that Jake White, coach of the high flying Vodacom Bulls, would probably rather not countenance. But that’s all in the future, and the log table is so jammed up it is almost impossible to predict the outcome when the league phase of the season winds down in early June.

What we do know is that the Vodacom Bulls have rebuilt Loftus Versfeld back into a fortress with their win over a DHL Stormers team that won in Pretoria in their last two visits. White's team are four behind Leinster, who they play in their second match in a two game mini-tour (their other opponents are the Dragons) at the end of the month.

The Vodacom Bulls’ chances of finishing at least in the top two are excellent, for they have a sequence of home games at Loftus to come after their tour. With their home game against Edinburgh being followed by one against Ulster, both teams in the race for top four spots, the DHL Stormers could be in the top four by Easter.

That scenario would obviously please most South African fans as it would mean there’s a good chance of two games on South African soil in the first week of the Finals Series, and it should also please White, who would probably rather not have to play the DHL Stormers in another quarter-final, even if this time the game would be on his team’s home ground.

But for now it is the Irish who are rallying, and it is Edinburgh, courtesy of a hard fought home win over the Ospreys, who join the likely top three in the much coveted top four bracket. The Edinburgh game, won by just four points, was the only close one, with the South African derbies not being the close affairs most would have predicted.

Although there is only one local team in the top eight, it was a weekend that underlined the healthy position South African rugby finds itself in subsequent to the decision to switch to the Vodacom URC from Super Rugby. The crowd of just over 50 000 that turned up at Loftus to see a top quality game despite the conditions would have been unheard of in the last years of Super Rugby before the intervention of COVID and even the Emirates Lions/Hollywoodbets Sharks game in Johannesburg appeared to be played in front of a better crowd than that venue has hosted recently.

With the next derby fixtures scheduled for the final round of the league phase, now comes a period where we will see how much draw the games against overseas opponents will have. The signs are good, for more than 10 000 people have already bought tickets for the DHL Stormers’ round of 16 Investec Champions Cup game against Stade Rochelais more than a month from now and there has been similar interest in the more immediate Vodacom URC visits by Edinburgh and Ulster.

With Munster and the Glasgow Warriors set to come to Loftus, and Ulster’s revival set to be tested by the Hollywoodbets Sharks in Durban in the next round, there are some big Vodacom URC games with potentially huge crowds for local fans to look forward to.

Weekend Vodacom United Rugby Championship results
Munster 45 Zebre 29
Edinburgh 19 Ospreys 15
Emirates Lions 40 Hollywoodbets Sharks 10
Benetton 9 Glasgow Warriors 19
Vodacom Bulls 40 DHL Stormers 22
Connacht 26 Scarlets 10
Cardiff Rugby 20 Leinster 33
Ulster 49 Dragons 26