The Lions have secured a home playoff, while the Stormers and Sharks have also qualified on the back of some favourable results in round 14, writes JON CARDINELLI.
The bonus-point win against the Kings on Sunday boosted the Lions' tally to 56 points. The upshot is that the Lions cannot be caught by the next best side in Africa 2 – the Sharks, who have 42 points and two regular season games to play – or any other side in the South African group standings.
The Lions have won the Africa 2 conference and have taken an unassailable lead at the top of the South African group log. More importantly, they have secured the right to host a quarter-final.
There's still plenty to play for, though. The Crusaders (59 points) still lead the Lions (56) by three points. Both teams have two matches to play before the playoffs.
The Crusaders will host the Highlanders in Christchurch next week. Their final regular season clash will be against the Hurricanes, the 2015 champions, on 15 July.
The Lions will not play again until after the June break. When Super Rugby resumes, the Lions will host the Sunwolves before travelling to Kings Park to face the Sharks.
The Lions need to win those two matches well and then hope that the Crusaders lose at least one of their remaining games. The Highlanders or the Hurricanes could do the Lions – and indeed South African rugby a favour – by beating the Crusaders.
The team that finishes at the top of the overall standings will earn the right to host a final (providing they progress that far). History shows that teams that are forced to travel overseas for a playoff are at a significant disadvantage.
The Sharks have also booked a place in the playoffs, thanks to the results in Durban and Buenos Aires in round 14. Robert du Preez's men cannot finish lower than second in the Africa 2 conference or lower than third (the third qualifying position in the South Africa group).
The Sharks moved up to 42 points after their big win against the Stormers. The Jaguares (24) are out of the playoff race following their heavy defeat to the Brumbies on Saturday night.
The Stormers went down 22-10 in Durban last Saturday. It was a disappointing performance by the Cape side. The result highlighted the gap between the two African conferences.
Yet, thanks to the struggles of the other sides in Africa 1, the Stormers have clinched the conference title – and ultimately a home quarter-final – with three games to spare.
The Stormers failed to collect any log points in their defeat to the Sharks on Saturday. However, the recent result at Loftus – a 34-20 win for the Hurricanes – has put an end to the Bulls' qualification hopes.
The Bulls (15) can draw level with the Stormers (30) in terms of log points. The Pretoria-based franchise would need to claim maximum log points in their remaining three games and hope that the Stormers accumulate none from their last three matches.
Even then, the Bulls would fail to qualify. As things stand after 14 rounds, the Stormers have seven wins while the Bulls have three. According to tournament rules, when two teams finish the regular season with the same number of log points, the side with the most wins finishes higher in the standings.
The Bulls, Cheetahs, and Kings should all be looking to avoid the embarrassment of finishing at the bottom of the South African pile. The Cheetahs beat the Sunwolves on Saturday, and have moved up to 16 log points. They are now three behind the Kings, and one ahead of the Bulls.
Following the June break, the Kings will play the Bulls at Loftus Versfeld and the Cheetahs in Port Elizabeth. Those derbies should have a bearing on where the three teams finish up.
Photo: Anne Laing/HM Images