The Bulls claimed a massive win while the Stormers and Sharks suffered significant setbacks in round 13, writes JON CARDINELLI.
The race for playoff qualification berths has intensified. The past weekend’s results see as many as four New Zealand teams in line for a knockout place, and only two teams from the South African conference – the Lions and Jaguares – in the top eight.
The Lions were denied a losing bonus point in their 39-27 defeat to the Highlanders in Dunedin. The Stormers managed to finish within seven of the Chiefs in their 15-9 loss to the Kiwi side in Cape Town. The Bulls scored a 39-33 win against the Sharks in Pretoria.
The upshot? Eight points separate No 1 and No 5 in the South African conference. The numbers suggest that any one of the teams can still win that conference and in doing so, earn home advantage in the playoffs.
What is especially interesting to note is that a single log point separates the Jaguares, ranked second in the South African conference, and the Stormers, ranked last. Expect a scrap for that second position – a playoff qualifying berth – in the final rounds of the regular season.
The next two rounds before the June break will be particularly important. The Jaguares are fortunate in that they are coming off a bye and will play their next two games in Buenos Aires. The Bulls and the Sharks will travel to Argentina in the coming weeks.
The Lions head back to South Africa after a horrific tour to Australasia. While they are first in the South African standings, they have won 50% of their games. They have to beat the Brumbies at Ellis Park next week to ensure that they maintain a healthy gap between themselves and the other playoff contenders in the conference.
Prior to round 13, one would have looked at the Stormers’ coming match against the Sunwolves in Hong Kong and declared it an opportunity to bank five log points. The Sunwolves smashed the Reds 63-28 on Saturday, though, while the Stormers failed to score a single try in their loss to the Chiefs.
The Stormers will be under pressure to win that match in Hong Kong, as well as the following game against the Lions in Cape Town. The Sharks are in a similar position in that they have to beat the Chiefs next week and the Jaguares in the subsequent game.
The Bulls could make a big statement with a win against the Jaguares in round 14. That would see them heading into the following clash against the Brumbies – who have been poor this season – with confidence and momentum. They could well be second in the conference when the competition breaks for the June Tests.
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