The Kings scored a historic victory in Sydney, while there were significant wins for the Lions and Bulls in round nine of the Super Rugby tournament, writes JON CARDINELLI.
Have the Kings recorded a bigger victory in their short history as a franchise? In 2013, the Eastern Cape franchise beat the Force and Highlanders at home and managed to down the Rebels in Melbourne. Yet a win over the Waratahs – a traditional powerhouse of Australian rugby and a Super Rugby title winner as recently as 2014 – must rank higher on the list.
The Kings were competitive in their recent tour matches against the Force and Reds. They were expected to struggle in the third and final game of their Australian sojourn. Few would have predicted such a dominant physical and tactical display against a team such as the Waratahs.
While the Kings aren't about to challenge for a playoff berth, they could well finish ahead of teams like the Bulls and Cheetahs. At present. the Bulls are only four log points clear of the Kings on the South African group log. The Kings and the Cheetahs are level with 10 log points apiece, but it's the Eastern Cape side that has a superior points-difference (-71 to the Cheetahs' -88).
The Kings should look to follow up their big win against the Waratahs in Sydney with a victory over the Rebels in Port Elizabeth. The fact that the Rebels did enough to claim a draw in Durban on Saturday – their best result in South Africa – is no indication of their quality. They are dire.
A win would see the Kings drawing level with the Bulls as far as log points (14) are concerned. A bonus-point win, of course, would see the Kings moving ahead of the Pretoria-based team. The Bulls will have a bye in round 10.
The Cheetahs are unlikely to improve their situation any time soon. They currently sit at seventh on the South African group log.
They will host the Crusaders and Highlanders in the coming weeks. On the basis of recent performances, the Kiwi sides should be expected to win those games comfortably.
As far as the race for playoff places are concerned, the Bulls will have taken heart from the results in round nine. The Stormers were thrashed 57-24 by the Crusaders in Christchurch, the Jaguares lost 24-21 to the Lions, and the Sharks drew 9-9 to the Rebels.
As things stand, the Bulls are 12 log points behind the Stormers on the Africa 1 conference log. The Cape side may struggle to add to its tally when it faces the Highlanders and Hurricanes in subsequent weeks. But even then, you'd have to say the Stormers are still favourites to finish top of their conference.
The Lions ground out an important win over the Jaguares on Friday. One would expect them to pick up wins in their next two matches against the Force and Rebels, even though those two games will be staged Down Under.
The battle for the third qualifying spot in the South African group is heating up. The Sharks blew a massive opportunity to put some daylight between themselves (24) and the Jaguares (20). That next fixture between Rob du Preez's charges and the Argentinians in Buenos Aires will be a big one.
The Bulls will watch that game with keen interest. At the moment, they are 10 log points behind the Sharks (who currently occupy the third qualifying spot).
The bad news for the Bulls is that they will play the Crusaders after their bye. The Cantabrians are the only unbeaten side in the 2017 tournament, and have accumulated 36 out of possible 40 log points.
Photo: Peter Parks/AFP Photo