United Rugby Championship

United Rugby Championship Play-Off Permutations Ahead Of Round 17

United Rugby Championship Play-Off Permutations Ahead Of Round 17

United Rugby Championship round 17 permutations and qualification implications as fourteen teams remain in with a chance of quarterfinal qualification.

Apr 12, 2023 by Philip Bendon
United Rugby Championship Play-Off Permutations Ahead Of Round 17

It’s not over until the proverbial fat lady sings as they and this has undoubtedly been the case for the 2022/23 United Rugby Championship season. 

Outside of a dominant Leinster outfit who have yet to record a loss this season, every United Rugby Championship side has endured spells of adversity. 

Now facing just two rounds until the play-off fixtures begin, there are several teams on the precipice of play-off elimination. 

Add in the teams still pushing for preferable play-off seedings, and weeks 17 and 18 become crucial to several teams’ short- and long-term futures. 

What’s At Stake? 

Due to Northern Hemisphere Rugby’s rather unique landscape that revolves around the Heineken Champions and Challenge Cups. The three major leagues in the URC, English Premiership and French Top 14 are all designed to ensure that the best sides qualify for the grandest of stages. 

In the case of the URC, eight sides qualify for the Champions Cup, whilst the next eight compete in the Challenge Cup. 

Sounds simple, right? Well, not so fast; with just eight slots available and five nations competing for four “Shields,” there are several permutations that factor into the qualification process. 

Starting with the “Shields”, which are broken into the following categories: 

Irish Shield – Connacht, Leinster, Munster, Ulster 

Welsh Shield – Cardiff, Dragons, Ospreys, Scarlets 

Scottish & Italian Shield – Benetton, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Zebre 

South African Shield – Bulls, Sharks, Stormers, Lions

From each shield, there must be one representative in the Champions Cup; thus, should any shield not have a team in the top eight qualification spots, then the 8th-place team will miss out on the Champions Cup. 

Taking this into account, heading into round 17, there are currently no representatives from the Welsh Shield. This would therefore see the Cell C Sharks miss out on qualification for the Champions Cup next season despite their place in the quarterfinals at the expense of Cardiff, who are the top Welsh side entering round 17. 

Currently, fourteen of the sixteen competing sides have a mathematical chance of heading into the final round, either having a chance at a play-off spot or having secured one. 

The two sides who are already eliminated heading into round 17 are Zebre and the Dragons. 

The Long Shots 

Joining them with a loss this weekend would be any of Edinburgh, the Ospreys, or the Scarlets. Crucially in this line-up, Edinburgh will host the Ospreys on Saturday evening. 

Should the Scarlets beat Glasgow this weekend, they will be joined by the winner of the Edinburgh vs Ospreys clash with a chance of qualification in round 18. 

For this to happen, they would need any of Connacht (without a bonus point), the Bulls or the Sharks to lose in both rounds 17 and 18. 

On The Outside Looking In

On the play-off bubble, should any of the following happen, then these sides will enter the final round out of the play-off reckoning. 

Benetton – lose to the Sharks, whilst the Bulls and Connacht win. 

Cardiff – lose to Connacht, whilst the Sharks and Bulls win. 

Emirates Lions – lose to Leinster whilst the Sharks win. 

In each of these scenarios, the three teams could lose and still have a chance in week 18 should either one or both of the Sharks and the Bulls lose. 

All To Play For  

Four sides enter round 17, knowing that anything other than a victory could enter the final round under immense pressure. 


Starting with 5th place Munster, who have the unenviable task of travelling to South Africa to tackle the Stormers in round 17, followed by a crunch clash with the Sharks in round 18. 

Feasibly the Irish giants will need to win at least one of these two clashes to secure a place in next season’s Heineken Champions Cup.  

Ideally, for Munster, a win in round 17 will remove all pressure for the final round as they will have secured 52 log points which is an unachievable figure for the Sharks. 

Indeed, Graham Rowntree’s side could lose both clashes and still qualify for the Quarterfinals and the Champions Cup. In fact, they will enter the clash with the Sharks knowing precisely what the permutations are depending on the result of the Bulls vs Leinster clash earlier in the day. 


Behind Munster, their western neighbours Connacht have a slightly easier run into the end of the season as they host Cardiff before heading to Glasgow in round 18. Should Andy Friend’s side pick up a bonus point win over Cardiff in round 17 and Munster lose without a bonus point, they will leapfrog their rivals into 5th position. 

Vodacom Bulls 

Last season’s losing finalists have created a somewhat uneasy situation for themselves, having seen their form dip drastically as of late. 

Yet, the final two rounds played out rather splendidly for Jake White’s side as they host a winless Zebre side before tackling a heavily rotated Leinster team in round 18. 

Realistically the Bulls should emerge from this stretch with two bonus point wins, given their opposition. Whilst Leinster have proven their ability to completely rotate their squad and still win, they would be forgiven for having an eye on their Champions Cup semi-final meeting with Toulouse. 

Two losses would likely see the Bulls crash out of the top eight, given their proximity in points to seven sides behind them. 

Cell C Sharks

Currently residing in the final quarterfinal spot but out of next season’s Heineken Champions Cup. The Cell C Sharks hold their destiny as they face two play-off rivals in Benetton and Munster. 

Beating both sides will likely secure a quarterfinal place and a position in next season’s Champions Cup. 

One win could be enough should other results fall their way, such as Munster, Connacht and the Bulls losing their clashes. Yet, in reality the chances of this happening are incredibly slim, given the quality of the three teams. 

Top Dogs  

The top four sides will enter the final two rounds with the knowledge that they will be playing at home in the quarterfinals. 

Starting with 4th position, Glasgow all but secured their position with a dominant win over nearest competitors Munster in round 16. Whilst they could rise as high as 2nd position, chances are they are locked into the final home quarterfinal position. 

The battle for second position is very much alive, with the Stormers just two log points ahead of Ulster. Of the two sides, Ulster have a far preferable schedule as they take on the 13th and 14th-ranked teams in the final two rounds. 

For the Stormers, matches against Munster and Benetton are by no means gimmes, but the defending Champions will back themselves to bag two wins at home. 

However, one loss for John Dobson’s side, and they could find themselves hitting the round for a semi-final. Home advantage is critical, a fact they will be all too aware of, having hosted last season’s final. 

Ahead of them, Leinster have already secured first position on the log. Reflecting their comfort atop the table is the squad they have picked for the final two rounds, which is a mix between young emerging talent and seasoned veterans but shorn of any real first-team players.