United Rugby Championship

United Rugby Championship Round 15 Wrap-Up - A Major Merger Incoming?

United Rugby Championship Round 15 Wrap-Up - A Major Merger Incoming?

United Rugby Championship round 15 wrap-up, Leinster Rugby re-sign Leo Cullen, Ospreys to merge with Ealing Trailfinders, Irish provinces dominate.

Mar 6, 2023 by Philip Bendon
United Rugby Championship Round 15 Wrap-Up - A Major Merger Incoming?

Round fifteen of the United Rugby Championship could well prove to be one of the most decisive rounds of the 2022/23 season. 

Here are some of the most notable developments from an action-packed weekend of URC rugby. 

Irish Provinces Make Their Move 

In a blockbuster weekend for the Irish provinces, all four teams picked up crucially victories to keep alive the prospect of them all playing in the quarterfinals. 

Leading the charge as ever, Leinster continued their unbeaten run and have all but punched their ticket to the top play-off seeding. 

Ulster and Munster now appear to be potential top-four finishers to ensure three quarterfinals on the Emerald Isle. 

Both teams have rebounded from their respective down patches, with Munster recovering from their early season drought whilst Ulster appear to have put their midseason ghosts behind them. 

Currently five points adrift of the Cape Town team, Ulster will have a golden opportunity to close the gap in round sixteen as they host an out-of-sorts Vodacom Bulls team. Dan McFarland's side hopes to chase down the second-place DHL Stormers to ensure a home semi-final berth. Before a ball is kicked in Belfast, the Stormers travel to Dublin to take on an unbeaten Leinster side who will have all their Irish internationals back in action. 

Finally, Connacht has rebounded remarkably from a slow start to the season and now sits in the all-important final quarterfinal position in eighth. 

Departing head coach Andy Friend will be hell-bent on ensuring the province pushes higher into the qualification positions to ensure they are playing Champions Cup rugby next season. 

At the time of writing, an eighth-place finish would see them miss out on top-flight European rugby because at least one Welsh region must participate in the Champions Cup. Only Cardiff appears to have any chance of cracking a top-eight finish, but even that looks unlikely.

Lions Roar In Pretoria 

The Emirates Lions returned to form magnificently in round fifteen, producing a shock 29 – 25 victory over the Vodacom Bulls at Loftus Versfeld. 

Looking more ambitious than at any point over the past two months, the Johannesburg-based side reminded opponents that their season is far from over. 

Spearheading Lion's attack was scrumhalf Sanele Nohamba, whose quick thinking and pace caught the Bulls napping for the Lion's second try. 

The diminutive Nohamba has been one of the Lion's top performers all season and looks every bit like a future Springbok. 

Elsewhere the Lions pack rediscovered their physical edge against an equally large Bulls side. Matching their cross-town rivals blow for blow, the Lions showed that when on song, they are perhaps the most potent team in the competition. 

Leinster Keep Their Man 

Leinster Rugby has announced that head coach Leo Cullen has signed a contract extension that will keep him in the Irish capital for two more seasons. 

Having represented the province on 221 occasions as a player, Cullen is part of the fabric that makes Leinster the juggernaut it is today. 

Winning the Heineken Champions Cup as a player and coach, Cullen is undoubtedly one of the biggest names in European club rugby. 

Cullen's combination with former England coach Stuart Lancaster has seen the Dubliners become the envy of rivals all over the continent. Seemingly producing players at a rate unmatched by any club the world over, Cullen's influence on the province has been immense. 

On his re-signing, Cullen said: "It is a great honour to be asked to extend my time at Leinster Rugby. I feel very fortunate to able to work with such a brilliant group of people here," 

"Many thanks to Shane Nolan, Guy Easterby and the Leinster Professional Game Board, along with David Nucifora from the IRFU, for their continued support and backing of me through this process. Also, to my family and friends, who only show me love and support, thank you for all the sacrifices you make. 

"We are entering a really exciting period of the season and we are all focused on delivering our best in front of many people who have backed us all through our careers." 

Previously linked with a move to his former club Leicester Tigers, Cullen's return to Dublin offsets some of the disappointment surrounding Lancaster's impending move to Racing 92. 

Benetton Keep Italian Hopes Alive 

Benetton rebounded from back-to-back defeats to see off the Ospreys 21 – 20 at the Liberty Stadium. 

Keeping their play-off alive was the name of the game heading into round fifteen, and the Italians did just that with a crucial road win. 

Sitting just one point behind Connacht, three behind the Sharks and five behind the Bulls. Benetton is perfectly positioned to make a jump up the table in round sixteen. 

The final two rounds are certainly challenging, with a trip to South Africa as they take on the Sharks and Stormers. Yet this is the position they would want to be in with their destiny firmly in their own hands. 

Beat the Lions in round sixteen and knock over the Sharks in round seventeen, and they will almost certainly be in the quarterfinals. 

URC Does London…  

Amidst the current financial challenges facing Welsh Rugby, the Ospreys could be set for a ground-breaking merger with London-based Ealing Trailfinders. 

English Championship side Ealing have been routinely rejected by the English Premiership despite dominating the Championship for several seasons. 

It would now appear that having given up on the prospect of joining the English top flight; the Trailfinders could well be merging with the Ospreys. 

Just how this will work remains to be seen, but all indications are that the move is looking highly likely given the situation the two teams find themselves in. 

Watch this space…

 Written by Philip Bendon