While all four South African sides remain in the playoff hunt, the Jaguares are one victory away from clinching the conference title, writes JON CARDINELLI.
The Jaguares claimed three wins on their recently concluded four-game tour of Australasia. They’re now six points clear at the top of the South African conference, and one win away from clinching an inaugural division title as well as a home playoff.
The Jaguares will host the Sharks in Buenos Aires next Saturday. If the Jaguares lose that match, they will have the opportunity to secure the conference title when they play the Sunwolves at home the following week.
If the Jaguares beat the Sharks, however, then the conference title race will come to an end. That result would boost the Jaguares up to 46 points and into an unassailable lead at the top of the conference table.
With two rounds to play, the Lions – currently in second place – can’t finish higher than 45 points. The Vodacom Bulls and Stormers can’t finish higher than 44 and 40 points respectively.
All four of the South African teams are, however, still in the race for a playoff place.
The Lions boosted their chances of playoff qualification with a massive bonus-point win against the Stormers on Saturday. Whether they can replicate that performance in the next fixture against the Hurricanes at Ellis Park remains to be seen.
They’re still favourites to finish ahead of the Bulls, though. Pote Human’s side will face the Highlanders next week, and then the Lions at Loftus Versfeld in their final clash of the conference stage.
The Sharks may struggle in Buenos Aires next week. It will be interesting to see who comes out on top when the Stormers host the Sharks in round 18, given the Stormers won the previous derby in Durban.
As things stand on the overall log, the Crusaders (53 points), Jaguares (41), Brumbies (39) and Hurricanes (45) are all in a position to host a quarter-final. The Lions, Rebels, Bulls and Sharks are currently in line for wildcard spots.
Things could change next week, however.
The Stormers could move into a playoff qualification position if they thump the Sunwolves in Cape Town. The Bulls and Sharks may be relegated to lower-table oblivion if they lose their respective games, as the Waratahs are another side that may make a late push for the quarter-finals.
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