The Lions moved to the top of the South African group with their bonus-point victory at Newlands, while the Bulls ground out an important win against the Jaguares in round eight, writes JON CARDINELLI.
The Lions made a statement with their win at Newlands on Saturday. With regards to the log, the Lions' drive to deny the Stormers a bonus point and push for one of their own was hugely significant.
SP Marais goalled a penalty in the 70th minute on Saturday. Had the game ended 22-16, the Stormers would have remained in pole position by virtue of their superior points difference.
As it is, the Lions are at the top of the South African group log. They are also in a stronger position than the Stormers given that the latter side will now embark on a three-week tour of New Zealand.
The Lions will host the Jaguares in round nine. Thereafter, they will travel to Australia for three matches against the Force, Rebels and Brumbies. Clearly they are better placed to strengthen their position.
The Stormers will play the Crusaders, Highlanders and Hurricanes in the coming weeks. They will be hard-pressed to win any of those games.
As per the tournament structure, the Stormers simply need to win their conference to qualify for the playoffs. And even though they lost to the Lions on Saturday, they still enjoy a 16-point lead over the next best team in Africa 1.
The Bulls beat the Jaguares to surpass the Cheetahs in this conference. The men from Bloemfontein looked to be on course for a big win against the Chiefs, but ultimately failed to claim so much as a losing bonus point from the fixture.
The Bulls will have an opportunity to extend their lead over the Cheetahs in round nine. The Cheetahs will be looking to claim their second win against the Bulls in 2017. It will only get tougher for Franco Smith's men when they host the Crusaders in round 10.
The Bulls have a lot to do if they're going to finish ahead of the Sharks in that third qualifying position. After eight rounds, the Sharks (third in the South African group) have a 12-point lead over the Bulls (fifth).
The Sharks will be favourites to beat the Rebels in Durban in round nine. They will host the Jaguares the week thereafter. There may be an opportunity for the Sharks to climb the ladder in the coming weeks, assuming the Lions don't win all three of their games on tour.
The Kings have entertained in their two matches in Australia, but only have one log point to show for their efforts. After tackling the Waratahs in Sydney, they will return to Port Elizabeth to host the Rebels. Perhaps the latter contest has been identified as one the Kings can win, and perhaps that may influence tactics and selections for the round-nine clash against the Waratahs.
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