Bulls close in on Stormers

The Bulls simply need to beat the Brumbies in Canberra to take an unexpected lead at the top of the South African group, writes JON CARDINELLI.

The Bulls were the big winners in round 10. The Pretoria-based franchise made their own luck in the match against the Force in Perth, claiming a 42-20 bonus-point victory to end a four-year drought on Australian soil.

A day later, a couple of massive results went the Bulls’ way. The Hurricanes thrashed the Lions in Johannesburg while the Waratahs pipped the Stormers in Cape Town. While the Bulls remain in third place on the South African group log and one point off the table-topping Stormers, they have the benefit of a game in hand.

Both the Stormers and the Lions will enjoy a bye in round 11. Then again, ‘enjoy’ is probably the wrong word. Indeed, the Stormers and Lions will be watching the Bulls’ fixture against the Brumbies closely. Both will be hoping that the Australian side does them a favour in stopping the Bulls from charging to the top of the South African group log.

The Bulls’ win in Perth brought an end to their 11-game losing streak in Australasia. They still have plenty to prove on their tour Down Under. Their record confirms that they have not travelled well in recent times.

That said, the opportunity is certainly there to claim another significant win. The Bulls will look to take advantage of a Brumbies side that has been beset by injuries and problems at board level. They will be aware of what else is at stake with regard to their position on the South African group log. They must bank the four log points while the Stormers and Lions are out of action.

The Stormers will face the Suwolves in Singapore in round 12. Thereafter, they will travel to Loftus to tackle the Bulls in a match that will go a long way towards deciding the Africa 1 conference.

Following their bye, the Lions will host the Blues and Jaguares in succession. Thereafter, they will face the Bulls in Pretoria.

Another team that would have enjoyed the recent stumble of the Lions and Stormers is the Sharks. While the Durban-based franchise rounded off their New Zealand tour with a loss to the Chiefs last Friday, they did obtain a bonus point.

The Sharks are six points behind the Bulls and seven behind the Stormers. While it’s premature to speak about them possibly topping the South African group at this stage, they are still in contention for the Africa 2 conference title. Following the Lions’ heavy loss to the Hurricanes, the Sharks trail the Johannesburg-based team by five log points.

The Sharks have an opportunity to chip away at that deficit in round 11. This will be easier said than done, however. The Sharks are travelling back to South Africa from New Zealand, and energy levels may be low. They will also be hosting a Hurricanes side that scored 50 points against the Lions in Johannesburg.

The Cheetahs will face the Waratahs in the third and final match of their Australian tour. They will be desperate to take something away from that match. While the central franchise may not be in the running for the Africa 1 conference title or even a playoff place, they are in a position to finish higher than the three new additions to the tournament, namely the Jaguares, Sunwolves and Kings.

Photo: Paul Kane/Getty Images

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