While both the Welsh and Italian teams have missed out on the playoffs in the previous two Vodacom URC seasons, the performances of Benetton and the Ospreys in particular allowed them to sneak into the quarter-finals and book their spots in what should be a keenly contested playoff round.

The drama that unfolded, from the Emirates Lions losing in Cape Town to the DHL Stormers, but still grabbing a losing bonus point, to the Vodacom Bulls' last gasp bonus point in Durban to briefly put them top of the log, to Munster’s bench saving them against Ulster, provided a combination of passionate top class rugby that has become the norm in the competition.

In the end, the Ospreys’ bonus point win over Cardiff saw them leapfrog the Emirates Lions into eighth position, although the Hollywoodbets Sharks' win in the EPCR Challenge Cup meant that the Welsh side can only qualify for the Investec Champions Cup if they win the Vodacom URC from here.

That may be a difficult ask for Toby Booth’s side as they look towards a tough quarter-final in Limerick against Munster, where Graham Rowntree’s side look like favourites to retain the title they won in Cape Town last year.

Rowntree paid tribute to their Welsh opponents this coming week, especially after Booth guided Ospreys to the top eight despite budget cuts that hit their squad hard last season.

“We have a lot of respect for what Toby (Booth) has done there,” Rowntree told the media after his side’s win over Ulster.

“As a club, what he's done there, the challenges around availability and budget. They're a sticky team. We had a good battle with them in February or March, they're a tough team. That's the next game, we're at the play-offs and finished the league at the top. I'm immensely proud of that as a club.”

Rowntree said Munster had done things the hard way, including two big wins in South Africa and a late victory over Ulster: “We don't do things easy, do we? I think we were 11th on 2 January, we had our injuries around Christmas, and picked up 44 of a possible 45 points since that Connacht game.

"We've been away in South Africa, I'm really pleased with how we've finished up. We don't get a trophy for it, but where we've got to, I'm immensely proud. We go to the play-offs now ... can't wait.”

The Vodacom Bulls will host Benetton at Loftus Versfeld in a repeat of the Round 17 game that the Pretoria side won 56-35.

While Jake White said it wasn’t the perfect performance against the Sharks, the 26-14 win was hard-fought and built on the back of a forwards performance and a front row that upstaged the KwaZulu-Natalians' Rugby World Cup-winning front row.

“Our front row was outstanding," White said afterwards. "Take nothing away, they are World Cup winners – it’s Ox and Vincent and Bongi – and what gives us confidence is that our front row can compete against what has been touted as the best front row in the world."

Leinster’s third spot saw them get a replay of the Round 17 game against fellow Irish side Ulster, who beat them in Belfast last time out. This time, though, Leo Cullen’s side will be in Dublin and wants a massive turnout to turn it into a fortress.

The pressure is on Leinster now after their loss in the Champions Cup final to Toulouse as they aim to claim their first Vodacom URC title.

“We will ask the fans to really go hard now next week because we will have a quarter-final down at the Aviva Stadium," said Cullen.

“Remember, it’s the fans that make the occasion, so hopefully we will get a big turn out there.”

Glasgow Warriors face possibly the toughest quarter-final against last season’s runners up and champions in the 2022, the DHL Stormers, after Franco Smith’s side had to scramble to beat lowly Zebre on Friday night.

Smith hailed the Scotstoun Stadium crowd for pulling them through on a night where they were far from their best and said they needed them again this coming week against the Stormers, who themselves possess plenty of firepower.

"I think tonight they [the crowd] pulled us through," said Smith. "They held us responsible and the boys reacted well to the support. So it will be fantastic to have this place completely filled next week.

"I can't put my finger now on it. We'll have to discuss that and we'll get back to the review board on Monday and understand why, but I think there was a little bit of over eagerness. We all knew that there's still a chance for us by scoring a certain amount of points to still end in first.

"I think they just wanted to fix it and sometimes the public doesn't realise how much they want to rectify a loss like what happened against the Lions.

"They get a little bit nervous and edgy and then there's an execution error, so that's understandable for this week. We have finished the season and now a new phase of this competition starts and that obviously has a completely different look to it."

With eight teams left, the competition does take another shape. A winner-takes-all shape with no room for error. And if the drama of the past weekend was anything to go by, it will be exceptional.

Round 18 results:
Leinster 33 Connacht 7
Glasgow Warriors 38 Zebre Parma 26
DHL Stormers 29 Emirates Lions 24
Benetton 31 Edinburgh 6
Scarlets 32 Dragons 15
Hollywoodbets Sharks 14 Vodacom Bulls 26
Munster 29 Ulster 24
Cardiff 29 Ospreys 33 

Quarter-final fixtures:

Friday, 7 June:
20h35: Munster (1) vs Ospreys (8) (QF1)

Saturday, 8 June:
15h30: Vodacom Bulls (2) vs Benetton (7) (QF2)
18h00: Leinster (3) vs Ulster (6) (QF3)
20h35: Glasgow Warriors (4) vs DHL Stormers (5) (QF4)

The winners of QF1 and QF4 will meet in semi-final 1, while the winners of QF2 and QF3 will meet in semi-final 2.