The Lions suffered a bad loss to the Sharks while the Bulls and Stormers sustained record defeats abroad in round 17, writes JON CARDINELLI.
The Lions blew a golden opportunity to take control of the South African conference on Saturday. Swys de Bruin’s charges led 21-11 at half-time in the derby against the Sharks. From there, however, the Lions slumped to a 31-24 defeat.
Later on Saturday evening, the Jaguares dominated the Stormers to claim their fourth South African scalp on Argentinian soil in 2018. The result in Buenos Aires, as well as the upset in Durban, sees the Jaguares trailing the Lions by just three log points in the South African conference standings.
The Lions will have a bye next week. The Jaguares will travel to South Africa to battle the Bulls, who are coming off their first loss to the Sunwolves in Singapore.
The opportunity is there for the Jaguares to take the lead in the South African conference. The winner of this division may well be determined by the results in the final round of the regular season. The Jaguares will play the Sharks in Durban in round 19, while the Lions will face the Bulls in Johannesburg.
The Bulls, like the Stormers, have failed to claim a single win overseas this season. They will be hurting after another loss to the Sunwolves – they lost to the Japan-based outfit in Tokyo last year – and will be hellbent on avoiding the South African wooden spoon when they host the Jaguares.
The Stormers haven’t won a single game away from home in 2018. They will be playing for nothing but pride when they host the Sharks at Newlands next week.
Meanwhile, the Waratahs strengthened their claim to the Australian conference crown with a win over the Rebels in Melbourne on Friday. The Brumbies scored an upset against the Hurricanes in Canberra on Saturday to keep their slim playoff hopes alive.
The Hurricanes went to Canberra without several star players. That said, they would have expected to beat the Brumbies and narrow the gap between themselves and the Crusaders at the top of the New Zealand standings.
The Crusaders are now favourites to retain the Kiwi title. Nevertheless, the Hurricanes, Chiefs and Highlanders all remain on course for playoff qualification. The race for second place in the New Zealand conference, and more importantly that home quarter-final berth, will intensify in the final two rounds.
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