The winners of the last Guinness PRO14 tournament - the previous guise of the Vodacom URC - have been the dominant force in the competition for several years and will be five-in-a-row champions if they win again this year. For a period of well over a year from September 2019, the men from Dublin were unbeaten and their winning streak stretched to 26 games by the time they were finally upset by fellow Irish team Connacht in January 2021.

That was just over a year ago and even though they haven’t managed to get back onto their old European Champions Cup winning footing since then, they have retained their aura as a team that makes a habit of winning at Vodacom URC level.

Until now, that is.

Their 29-27 defeat in Cardiff at the weekend followed on from an earlier loss to Ulster in November so they are in the rare position of having lost 25% of the games they have played so far (two in eight).

It leaves the Leinster in fourth position, well below by their usual standards, and certainly suggests the hegemony they have enjoyed in recent years is being challenged, which makes the competition more interesting.

Indeed, a script-writer wouldn’t be able to ask for a more enticing scenario than what is presented by the current top five placings on the log - Edinburgh are first on 34 points while fifth-placed Munster are only five behind, and just one point behind their arch-rivals Leinster.

On the flip side however, Edinburgh were guilty of themselves sticking to the script of upset results this past weekend, losing by four points on their away trip to Ospreys.

So, the gap between the top teams and the teams further back, such as the four South African ones, isn’t as wide as it looked like it may become.

The gap between Edinburgh and the best placed South African team, the currently 10th placed Cell C Sharks, is now 18 log points. That appears to be a yawning gap at first glance but the caveat is that the Scottish team have played two more games than the South African teams. That theoretically leaves the Durbanites just eight off the pace if they win their next two games with bonus points.

That’s going to be hard to do though given the competitive nature of the South African derbies, and the Cell C Sharks will have to be a lot more ruthless in taking advantage of any superiority they have over the DHL Stormers in the return coastal derby in Cape Town on Saturday than they were at Hollywoodbets Kings Park two days ago.

In other games played overseas this past weekend, Glasgow Warriors - currently second behind their fellow Scottish club - sent out a strong statement with a thumping win away from home against Connacht, who have tended to be a difficult team to beat at their home ground in Galway but have struggled for consistency this season.

Munster did what was expected of them when they visited Italy to play Zebre Parma, who are now so alone in last place that they are now two bonus point wins behind the next worst team, the Dragons. Zebre still have just a solitary point to show from their seven matches and it won’t get any easier for them as they are due in South Africa once the local derby phase of the season in this country is completed.

The Vodacom Bulls will be feeling better and more confident after their second win in the competition against the Emirates Lions at the weekend but are still fourth last on the log, with their superior points difference giving them the edge over the Lions as they are both on 12 points.

Vodacom United Rugby Championship results:
Cardiff Rugby 29 Leinster 27
Ospreys 23 Edinburgh 19
Zebre Parma 17 Munster 34
Connacht 20 Glasgow Warriors 42
Emirates Lions 10 Vodacom Bulls 34
Dragons 13 Benetton 13
Ulster 27 Scarlets 15
Cell C Sharks 22 DHL Stormers 22