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Emmanuel Tshituka takes off for a try against Cardiff last Saturday to help keep the Lions URC hopes alive. Picture: SYDNEY SHESIBEDI/GALLO IMAGES
Emmanuel Tshituka takes off for a try against Cardiff last Saturday to help keep the Lions URC hopes alive. Picture: SYDNEY SHESIBEDI/GALLO IMAGES

While the smart money will be on the top eight teams retaining their spots by the end of the league stages of the United Rugby Championship (URC), the actual pecking order is as clear as mud.

The URC has two rounds left with 10 teams still in contention for a top eight spot and thus a place in the quarterfinals. The race for the top is by no means a fait accompli, with Glasgow Warriors leading Leinster by a point while the fourth placed Bulls are four points off the top.

Glasgow Warriors may well hold on to that position, given they have matches remaining against the 10th and 16th ranked teams.

One of those teams are the Lions, who are four points off eighth place. The Lions are 10th, with Connacht, though on the same log points, one place higher by virtue of recording one more win.

The Lions can still catapult up the order and potentially finish above the fifth placed Stormers, but that would be testing the bounds of probability.

The Lions are “alive”, as their coach Ivan van Rooyen kept reminding after their stuttering win over Cardiff, but are they on a respirator?

The Lions have to play the teams ranked first and fifth in their remaining matches. They will need to beat Glasgow Warriors and hope John Dobson's Stormers lose to Connacht before completing a miraculous back door entry by winning their last league game in Cape Town.

It is in the Lions' interest to qualify with the Stormers. A win for the Stormers on Saturday will likely remove Connacht from the top eight equation. Connacht travel to Leinster in the last round of league action.

Though the Lions’ prospects of winning both their remaining matches are slim, some of the other teams above them also face difficult assignments.

Benetton, who did their prospects the world of good by beating the Sharks last weekend, are eighth but they travel to Loftus to square off against the Bulls on Saturday.

Edinburgh, who are seventh, host Munster this weekend and they finish away to Benetton, which may yet be a play-off match between the two sides in Treviso next weekend.

The Lions have to hope Benetton and Edinburgh lose this weekend and they enter the top eight conversation by beating Glasgow.

Ulster, who have 49 log points, host Leinster this weekend before closing away to Munster. They may remain 49 points, but not necessarily sixth place.

The Bulls and Stormers remain on a collision course for a quarterfinal play-off at Loftus on the weekend of June 7-8.

The Bulls should bag five points against Benetton this weekend at Loftus, but it is harder to predict the outcome of their last league match against the Sharks in Durban.

Should the Sharks win their Challenge Cup final against Gloucester in London on Friday next week, the Bulls could encounter a buoyant team, or one that has had reason to celebrate a maiden cross-continental title.

Defeat for the Sharks in London could, of course, make for a wholly deflating experience but it might also galvanise them for one last push at the end of a long season.

The Stormers will face a real test against Connacht in Galway this weekend. A win will cement their place in the top eight, while potentially keeping pressure on the four teams above.

They host the Lions in their final league match but it is worth noting they will be travelling from Ireland, while the Joburg side will merely have a two-hour commute to Cape Town.

Defeat for the Stormers in Galway and victory for the Lions this week will make for a really awkward fixture for the former next weekend.

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