The Lions have enhanced their status as the leading local team, while the Kings have surpassed the Bulls in the South African group standings, writes JON CARDINELLI.
The Lions have begun their three-game tour to Australia in the best possible fashion – at least as far as the accumulation of log points are concerned. Elton Jantjies' 83rd-minute score against the Force on Saturday ensured that the Lions claimed a bonus-point win and extended their lead at the top of the South African group.
After 10 rounds, the Lions enjoy a nine-point lead over the next best team in Africa 2, namely the Sharks. More significantly, the Lions have moved 11 points ahead of the Stormers on the South African group log.
In fact, the Lions (37 points) trail the overall leaders, the Crusaders (41), by four points. The team that finishes the conference stage with the most log points will earn the right to host the final (providing they progress through the quarters and semis).
The Stormers' chances of catching the Lions are fading with each game on New Zealand soil. The Cape franchise lost 57-24 in Christchurch in round nine, and 57-14 in Dunedin in round 10. You wouldn't bet on them to beat the Hurricanes in Wellington in round 11, or even to claim a consolatory bonus point.
That said, the Stormers remain well-placed in terms of playoff qualification. Going into round 10, the Cape side enjoyed a 12-point lead over the next best team in the Africa 1 conference, namely the Bulls. The Bulls did not play in round 10, while the Cheetahs sustained a 48-21 defeat to the Crusaders.
The Bulls will go into the next clash against the unbeaten Crusaders as underdogs. After hosting the Highlanders in round 11, the Cheetahs will face the Blues and Hurricanes in New Zealand.
The Kings have surpassed the Bulls and Cheetahs on the South African group log. The bonus-point win over the Rebels on Saturday boosted the Kings into fifth position, one log point ahead of the Bulls. The Eastern Cape franchise will enjoy a bye in round 11, but could maintain their lead over the Bulls and Cheetahs if those sides fail to claim any log points from their respective matches.
The Sharks scored an important win against the Jaguares in Buenos Aires on Saturday night. The result sees the Sharks strengthening their claim to the third qualifying position. They are now eight points clear of the Jaguares.
The Jaguares should bounce back when they host the Sunwolves in round 11. Meanwhile, the Sharks will head back to South Africa for a clash against the Force.
The Lions will head to Melbourne to face a Rebels side coming off a 44-3 defeat to the Kings. One would expect the Lions to win and win well against the Rebels, and to ultimately stretch their lead at the top of the South African group.
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