The Lions and Jaguares scored big victories in round four, while the Sharks' narrow win against the Kings saw them slipping to fourth in the South African group standings, writes JON CARDINELLI.
The Jaguares finished the round at the top of the South African group, thanks to their superior points-difference (45 to the Lions' 40). The Stormers, who had a bye in round four, have dropped to second place in the South African group, although they still lead the Africa 1 conference.
The Lions scored seven tries in their 44-14 hammering of the Reds in Johannesburg. They would have finished the round at the top of the South African group standings if the Cheetahs hadn't conceded a try to the Jaguares in the final movement of the game in Buenos Aires. That score allowed the Jaguares to claim the try-scoring bonus point as well as improve their points difference.
The Sharks missed an opportunity to improve their position in the group. While they did enough to secure a 19-17 win against the Kings in Durban, their inability to claim the try-scoring bonus point as well as a favourable points difference has resulted in them slipping down to fourth. They’ve also dropped to third in the Africa 2 conference.
The Sharks will travel to Bloemfontein to face the Cheetahs in round five and then to Johannesburg to front the Lions in round six. A win against the Cheetahs will ease the pressure on the Sharks ahead of that massive Africa 2 clash at Ellis Park.
The Lions will be favourites to beat the Kings in the next round. The Eastern Cape franchise may battle to prevent the Lions from claiming the try-scoring bonus point and winning by a substantial margin. If the Reds stop the Jaguares from winning in Buenos Aires, or even from claiming that try-scoring bonus point, the Lions could move to the top of the log.
The Stormers will have the opportunity to consolidate their position in Africa 1 when they travel to Singapore to face the Sunwolves. Robbie Fleck’s side battled to a draw in last year’s away fixture against the Sunwolves. Can they record a bonus-point win on this occasion, and succeed where the Cheetahs and Bulls have failed in recent weeks?
The Bulls picked up their first win this season when they beat the Sunwolves 34-21 in Pretoria on Friday. However, the Bulls did not do enough to claim the bonus point in that fixture.
They’ve collected only five log points in three matches, and it won’t get any easier when they travel to New Zealand for a two-match tour. Failure to bank log points against the Blues and Chiefs, and subsequently against the Sunwolves in Tokyo, will compromise the Bulls’ chances of qualifying for the playoffs.
The Kings had the chance to beat the Sharks on Saturday via a late shot at goal. While they failed to take that opportunity, they did enough to claim a losing bonus point. The Kings and Bulls have the same number of log points after four rounds (five) although the latter side boasts the superior points difference.
Meanwhile, the Chiefs are ranked first in the tournament for log points (19). The Crusaders (16) and Hurricanes (15) boast more log points than any non-New Zealand side, but are ranked third and fourth respectively in the Australasian group.
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