Lions control own fate

The Lions have strengthened their position at the top of the South African group while the Stormers have slipped down to fourth for the first time in 2016, writes JON CARDINELLI.

The Lions thrashed the Jaguares 52-24 in Johannesburg on Saturday. That result has consolidated their position at the head of the respective logs, and increased the likelihood of them topping the South African group at the end of the conference stage.

The Lions are the best placed of the four South African playoff contenders. At this point, they are the only side that remains in control of its own destiny. By contrast, the Bulls, Sharks and Stormers will need a few other results to go their way in the final rounds.

The Lions have scored a total of 95 points across their last two matches and bagged 10 log points. They will be favourites to claim another four when they travel to Pretoria in round 14.

The Bulls will have other ideas. The Pretoria-based side should be confident after claiming a convincing 17-13 win against the Stormers. That result has propelled them to the top of the Africa 1 conference for the first time this season.

There is a chance, however, that the Bulls’ time at the top will be limited to one week. They have to beat the Lions in round 14 to keep their noses ahead of the Stormers. The Cape side will play the Cheetahs at Newlands, and few will argue that their assignment in round 14 is easier than that of the Bulls.

A bonus-point win against the Cheetahs would help the Stormers’ cause considerably.  At this point, the Stormers will be looking for the Lions to do them a favour by beating the Bulls. A Lions win at Loftus and a Stormers win at Newlands will see the Stormers back on top of the Africa 1 conference.

The Sharks have done well to finish this part of their campaign in third place. Whether they remain in that qualifying berth or not will depend on the results in Pretoria and Cape Town in round 14. Losses for both the Bulls and Stormers would benefit the Sharks in the short term.

However, a win for the Bulls would be better for the Sharks in the long term. It would mean that two log points separate themselves and the Africa 2 leaders, the Lions, with both having completed 12 games. The Sharks’ first fixture after the June break is against the Lions in Johannesburg. The result of that derby could determine the winner of the conference.

A win for the Bulls over the Lions would heap the pressure on the Stormers, who are set to travel to Australia for a two-week tour at the beginning of July. As things stand, the Cape side is already under pressure after recording a draw with the Sunwolves and a loss to the Bulls over the past two weeks.

The Cheetahs may feel the backlash when they visit Newlands in round 14. The central franchise has only managed to beat the Sunwolves (twice) and Kings in 2016.

The Kings have recorded just one win to date (against the Sunwolves), and may fancy their chances when they host another Super Rugby newcomer in the Jaguares this Friday. That said, the Kings will not go into that clash with any confidence or momentum. The Eastern Cape side lost 53-0 to the Sharks in round 13, and have now leaked 505 points in 11 games.

Photo: Lee Warren/Gallo Images

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Jon Cardinelli