Cheetahs spare Lions blushes

The Cheetahs did the Lions, Sharks and Stormers a favour in restricting the Bulls to a narrow win at Loftus Versfeld this past Saturday, writes JON CARDINELLI.

Both the Stormers and Sharks enjoyed a bye in round six. They would have enjoyed the opportunity to rest their tired bodies. Most of all, they would have enjoyed the fact that the break did not cost them their positions at the top of the South African group log.

The Crusaders as well as the Cheetahs did South Africa's coastal teams a significant favour this past weekend. The Crusaders beat the Lions at Ellis Park on Friday. The Cheetahs didn't beat the Bulls, but they did ensure that the Pretoria side finished Saturday's contest with four log points instead of five.

The first result will please the Stormers and the Sharks. The former side remains four points ahead of the Lions on the South African group log. The latter has a two-point advantage over the Lions, and will be looking to extend that lead when they host Johan Ackermann's side at Kings Park in round seven.

That said, the Lions claimed a valuable log point in that loss to the Crusaders. Elton Jantjies kicked for goal in the final play of the game to secure the losing bonus point. At the time it was small consolation. A day later, it's significance was revealed.

The Bulls blew a golden opportunity when they hosted the Cheetahs at Loftus. They had got themselves into a great position to win the match and claim the try-scoring bonus point. At half-time, they led 20-13 on the scoreboard and three to one in the try-scoring stakes.

The Cheetahs hit back in the second stanza. The visitors scored a well worked try of their own, and prevented the hosts from adding to their tally.

The Bulls had to be content with four log points. They have drawn level with the Lions in the South African group. The Lions, however, remain in third place (and in the qualifying berth) by virtue of their superior points difference.

Meanwhile, the Kings claimed their first win of the 2016 campaign when they beat the Sunwolves in Port Elizabeth. The victory has lifted them off the bottom of the South African group log.

Their challenge from hereon in is to maintain the gap between themselves and the last-placed Sunwolves. They will face the Bulls in PE in round seven, while the Sunwolves will face the Stormers at Newlands.

The Bulls will be under pressure to bank a big win against the Kings. They will want to obtain some log points before they travel to Australia. Their touring record in recent years has been poor.

The Stormers will be favourites to claim five log points in their fixture against the Sunwolves. The Lions will have it all to do over the next fortnight when they face the Sharks and then the Stormers.

The next game is more important given the Lions and Sharks are in the same conference. If the Lions win and move to the top of Africa 2, they would have taken a big step towards the conference title and more importantly a home playoff.

The Sharks can't afford to lose this weekend. After hosting the Lions, they will embark on a three-game tour to New Zealand. Thereafter, they will face the Hurricanes in Durban and then the Jaguares in Buenos Aires.

All three of the Lions, Stormers and Sharks may yet feature in the playoffs. What transpires over the next few weeks will, however, determine who travels in the knockout stage and who enjoys home advantage.

Photo: Anne Laing/HSM Images

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