The Lions remain in the hunt for a potential home final after claiming a bonus-point win against the Sunwolves, writes JON CARDINELLI.
The Lions have already won the Africa 2 conference and have taken an unassailable lead at the top of the South African group log. They will host a quarter-final, and possibly a semi-final, regardless of what transpires in the final two rounds of the regular season.
That said, Johan Ackermann's charges shouldn't want for motivation over the next two weeks. They picked up five log points in their recent fixture against the Sunwolves, and now trail the Crusaders by just two in the overall standings.
Both teams will enjoy a bye in round 16. The Lions will have two weeks to prepare for their final conference fixture against the Sharks at Kings Park. The Crusaders players who aren't on duty for the All Blacks next week should be focusing on the showdown with the Hurricanes in Wellington on 15 July.
The Lions will be watching that New Zealand derby closely. A win will see the Crusaders moving to 67 points and out of the Lions' reach. A loss would keep the Lions' hopes of finishing first alive.
The Lions would still need to beat the Sharks in that scenario, to finish at the top of the overall standings. Based on their most recent performance against the Bulls – a 30-17 loss in Durban – the Sharks will go into that clash as underdogs.
The Sharks have already qualified for the playoffs, and are unlikely to improve on their ranking in the lead-up to the knockouts. The same is true of the Stormers – who clinched the Africa 1 conference title before the June break. If anything, these teams will be looking to build some momentum ahead of the quarter-finals.
The Bulls, Cheetahs and Kings will all be looking to avoid the South African wooden spoon. The Kings (23 log points) and Bulls (19) both have two matches remaining, while the Cheetahs (16) have only one.
The Kings will travel to Pretoria next week to battle the Bulls, and will host the Cheetahs in Port Elizabeth thereafter. The Bulls may need to beat the Kings next week and the Stormers (at Loftus Versfeld) to finish higher than the Eastern Cape franchise in the final standings.
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