Coach Johan Ackermann will have some challenging selection decisions to make ahead of the Lions’ trip to face the Jaguares in Buenos Aires this Saturday, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
Ackermann selected a full-strength side for Friday’s clash with the Kings, and despite producing a poor first-half performance, the Lions ultimately came away with the desired bonus-point win to confirm their status as deserved Africa 2 and South African group winners.
However, in the second game of this past weekend, the Chiefs secured a bonus-point win of their own against the Reds, while the Crusaders obliterated the Rebels in Christchurch on Saturday.
Such results are significant because while the Lions currently sit at the top of the Super Rugby pile with 52 log points, the Chiefs are just one point behind, while only a couple of points separate the Saders from the Johannesburg-based side.
The team that finishes at the top of the combined Super Rugby ladder will earn the right to potentially host a semi-final and final, and so this remains a considerable incentive for the Lions to consider ahead of their trip to Argentina.
Ackermann will need to weigh this up along with the well-being of some of his top players who have carried a heavy workload this season. The travel-sapping effects of the journey to Buenos Aires should also not be underestimated.
It’s with this in mind that Ackermann may well opt to rest some players, while still backing his squad to have the necessary strength in depth to secure a bonus-point win over the Jaguares that would secure their position of ascendancy in the overall Super Rugby standings.
What makes matters even more interesting is the fact that the Chiefs and Crusaders also face challenging fixtures in the final weekend of regular-season action, against the Highlanders and Hurricanes respectively.
It all makes for what should be an enthralling conclusion to the conference stage of Super Rugby, with the overall competition leaders and the Kiwi conference winners only set to be decided this weekend.
Meanwhile, the Stormers secured their position as Africa 1 conference winners after an important victory over the Force on Saturday, and coach Robbie Fleck can now consider resting players for this Saturday’s encounter with the Kings, which will precede a home quarter-final.
In the Africa 2 conference, the Sharks did well to produce a composed second-half performance against the Cheetahs on Saturday, which saw them come away with an all-important 26-10 win that enabled the coastal outfit to reclaim the wildcard-qualifying position from the Bulls.
The Durban-based side are two log points ahead of the Bulls, and will want to take no chances against the Sunwolves this Friday as they look to secure their progression to the quarter-finals. The Bulls will take on the Cheetahs on Saturday night, and their fate is likely to already have been sealed by then.
In the Australian conference, the Brumbies and Waratahs remain deadlocked on 39 points after both sides succumbed to disappointing defeats this past weekend, but while the Tahs face a challenging encounter against the Blues in Auckland this Friday, the Brumbies should back themselves to get a big win over the Force in Canberra.
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