Leinster came back from a 10 point deficit to win the game and thus gain some revenge for the playoff defeat to their arch-rivals in May, but it was not the only big game in the round that proved a great advert for the competition.
Glasgow Warriors sounded a loud warning to the team they beat in the first round by scoring a great come from behind win over Ulster to move to the top of the standings with a third of the league phase of the competition now completed.
Come from behind wins were the order of the weekend, with two of them happening on Friday night - as Cardiff were fighting back from a 14-0 deficit to score a thrilling last gasp victory against last year’s beaten finalists and the inaugural champions, the DHL Stormers, Benetton were making a statement by striking back from a deficit to win a thriller against Edinburgh at Hive Stadium.
Benetton have had an impressive season so far, with a draw with champions Munster and a win over the DHL Stormers among their achievements, but what made this win different was that it was achieved away from home against an Edinburgh team that was picking up good momentum following the previous week’s win over the Vodacom Bulls.
The upshot of the weekend’s matches is that Glasgow and Leinster have cemented their respective status’s as the form teams in the competition and the most likely to end in the top two, but it was also a round that confirmed the jeopardy there is in the Vodacom URC this year, something that is going to make the battle for top four spots that secure home ground advantage in the playoffs, and the top eight, tight and riveting.
For instance, while the DHL Stormers have lost four games on the trot, which was as many as they lost in the entire 2022/23 season, they are still only one bonus point win off the top four and of course they have a long sequence of home games at their fortress, DHL Stadium in Cape Town, to come.
The DHL Stormers are 12th currently, two places behind their fellow South African team, the Emirates Lions, who are now only four points off the top four and tantalisingly close to the playoff and Investec Champions Cup qualification.
With just Glasgow and Leinster, plus Benetton, who also had a draw, having only one loss on their record, there could be many log shifts over the coming weeks. This coming weekend for instance sees Munster hosting the Warriors in what should be a ripper and will go a long way towards telling us just how realistic a prospect it is that Glasgow and Leinster continue to draw away from the rest of the field, as appears to be happening at the moment.
Munster will be at home and their competitive display against Leinster will make them confident. For his part, Munster coach Graham Rowntree, even in defeat at the AVIVA, saw plenty of evidence to suggest his team has closed the gap their rivals from Dublin have had on them over the past decade or more.
Saturday’s was the first meeting between the two since Rowntree’s side shocked Leinster in last season’s Vodacom URC semi-finals. On that occasion, Leinster were far from full strength, but the majority of Leinster’s Ireland stars featured in Saturday’s clash.
“It is shifting - we proved that in May and that was a fully loaded team they had there [yesterday] and we could have beaten them,” said Rowntree.
“We could have beaten them. A lot of that is in our control and we will have a look at that. We have to build momentum. We have a huge game in Cork next Friday night now against Glasgow.
"We’ve got some battered young and old bodies to look after and we will move forward but I take an immense amount of pride for the stack of things we did well in that game.”
Indeed, had Munster taken their chances better during a long period where they were attacking, they could well have pulled of a second successive derby win over their rivals. And don’t forget that it was a home game for Leinster.
“I thought it was a hell of a game,” Rowntree said. “We will look at ourselves, our composure when we get near the opposition try line. We were held for a goal line drop out early in the game and if we had scored there it changes the context of the next quarter.”
Leinster coach Leo Cullen pointed to his team’s defence as the reason they came away with the win: “Defensively I thought we stood up well. They had a couple of breakouts and we had some chances… It was a bit of that, tooing and froing this way and that, wasn’t it…”
Meanwhile Ulster’s defeat at the Scotstoun meant that Springbok loosehead prop and former DHL Stormers captain Steven Kitshoff made a losing start to his career with the Belfast team. He came on 10 minutes into the second half just as Glasgow took a lead that they were to never relinquish.
It was a thrilling game, with Ulster taking a 14-0 lead but the Warriors fought back like the champion team they are now threatening to become.
“We ended up having a lot of deficits in the first half. It is good to get a reward. Character in the team is everything,” said Glasgow’s coach Franco Smith afterwards.
Vodacom United Rugby Championship results - Round 6:
Edinburgh 22 Benetton 24
Cardiff 31 DHL Stormers 24
Emirates Lions 61 Zebre 19
Vodacom Bulls 53 Connacht 27
Hollywoodbets Sharks 69 Dragons 14
Leinster 21 Munster 16
Glasgow Warriors 33 Ulster 20
Ospreys 31 Scarlets 9