The odd one out was the Ospreys, who came away with nothing from their trip to Dublin, where Leinster produced one of two statement performances of the weekend as they shrugged off a loose period midway through the first half to bury their opponents under a second half landslide.

Speaking of statement performances and Irish teams, the other big statement of the weekend was Munster’s comfortable win over Connacht, thus tipping their fellow Irish side into last chance saloon mode when they host the DHL Stormers in Galway this coming Saturday.

While there were some one-sided results in the round, it was late shifts in two of the three games on South African soil that had the most profound influence on the log battle. The Hollywoodbets Sharks certainly didn’t help their fellow South African teams, the DHL Stormers and Emirates Lions, by conceding the late try scored and converted by Jacob Umaga that kept Benetton’s challenge very much alive.

That result coupled with wins for Ulster and Edinburgh ensured that there is still a logjam in the positions behind the fifth placed DHL Stormers, who themselves can’t feel completely safe even though they hit target with their late flurry of scoring that secured them a bonus point win over the Dragons in Newport at the start of the weekend.

It was the DHL Stormers' first win overseas in the Vodacom URC since they beat Zebre in Parma in October 2022.

The gap between fourth and fifth did not change at the weekend because both the Vodacom Bulls and the DHL Stormers picked up full points, but with one less game to play, and only two to go, that gap becomes more significant. A full house of points at home against Benetton in the penultimate round will be enough for the team from Pretoria to make sure of a top four spot regardless of how the Capetonians go in Galway and what they do in their final league game against the Hollywoodbets Sharks in Durban.

But the battle for top spot among the top four is intense, with just four points separating top placed Glasgow Warriors from the fourth placed Vodacom Bulls. In that sense, the two bonus points the visitors picked up in the game at Loftus with their late flurry of scoring could prove highly significant.

Glasgow are one point ahead of Leinster with two games to go and two ahead of surging Munster, so with a game against last placed Zebre to come after that, their trip to Johannesburg to play the Emirates Lions this weekend becomes crucial for them. If they pick up full points, they will be pretty assured of a top place finish.

While it was supposed to be a knockout weekend, the only team to be really knocked out was the Ospreys, who with the magical figure of 51 points generally considered the target for safety in the battle for top eight spots, are probably too far behind now with 40 points and just two games to go.

If 51 is the target, the DHL Stormers, who were poor most of the way before hitting their straps late against the Dragons, are just a solitary log point from being secure. But they will still be nervous after several other results went against them - the one in Durban for a start. The only South African team to lose was the only one that didn’t have anything riding on the game, the Sharks.

But there was a lot riding on the game for their opponents, Benetton, and by extension the DHL Stormers and the Emirates Lions. Defeat in Durban would have been a hammer blow to the Italian team and effectively ended their challenge but now they remain a strong threat to the aspirations of both the Capetonians and Johannesburgers.

With Leinster set to play Ulster this coming weekend and Munster having potentially tough clashes with Edinburgh (away) this coming Friday and then Ulster (home) in the final round, the Vodacom Bulls might still be hopeful of finishing higher than their current fourth. Their last two games are against Benetton, who looked a bit injury ravaged after the Hollywoodbets Sharks game and should be beaten, before they go to Durban for a potentially tricky finish against the KwaZulu-Natalians.

One of the reasons the Vodacom Bulls need to get up the log from a South African viewpoint is because it looks increasingly likely the DHL Stormers will finish fifth, and fourth plays fifth in the quarter-final round. It would be better for the Vodacom Bulls to host an overseas team, and better for South Africa as a whole to avoid a scenario like last year where only one team can make the semi-final round.

Vodacom United Rugby Championship R16 results
Dragons 21 DHL Stormers 44
Edinburgh 40 Zebre 14
Vodacom Bulls 40 Glasgow Warriors 34
Hollywoodbets Sharks 24 Benetton 25
Scarlets 20 Ulster 31
Munster 47 Connacht 12
Emirates Lions 34 Cardiff 13
Leinster 61 Ospreys 14

Vodacom URC R17 fixtures

Friday, 17 May:
20h35: Zebre v Scarlets (Parma)
20h35: Edinburgh v Munster (Edinburgh)

Saturday, 18 May:
14h00: Vodacom Bulls v Benetton (Pretoria)
16h00: Ospreys v Dragons (Swansea)
16h05: Emirates Lions v Glasgow Warriors (Johannesburg)
18h05: Connacht v DHL Stormers (Galway)
18h15: Hollywoodbets Sharks v Cardiff (Durban)
20h35: Ulster v Leinster (Belfast)