The Lions have moved to the top of the South African group while the race for the Africa 1 title has opened up after the Stormers' unexpected draw in Singapore, writes JON CARDINELLI.
The Lions are back in business as far as the Super Rugby playoffs are concerned. Thanks to the resounding 43-5 win against the Blues this past Saturday, they have consolidated their position at the top of the Africa 2 conference and have leapfrogged the Stormers in the South African group.
Many may still be wondering how this has come to pass. The Stormers were widely tipped to claim a bonus-point victory against the Sunwolves in Singapore. Few would have predicted a straight win for one of South Africa's traditional powerhouses against the newcomers from Japan. Even fewer, if any, would have predicted a 17-17 draw. The upshot is that the Stormers are now one log point behind the Lions in the overall standings.
Two rounds remain before the Super Rugby tournament takes a break for the June Tests. The Lions will fancy their chances against the Jaguares in Johannesburg and the Bulls in Pretoria. Two more wins should see Johan Ackermann’s charges topping the South African group at the end of May.
Following the disappointing draw in Singapore, the Stormers would do well to finish in that position. Indeed, they now face a fight just to maintain their status as Africa 1 conference leaders.
The Bulls have failed to obtain a log point in their previous two games. They currently trail the Stormers by one point in the Africa 1 conference, but will have the chance to snatch top spot when the two teams clash at Loftus Versfeld in round 13.
The Bulls need to hit back after a disappointing tour of Australia. A loss to the Stormers this coming weekend, and to the Lions thereafter, will hurt their bid for a playoff place.
The Sharks will hope for such a run of results. Gary Gold’s side is coming off important wins against the Hurricanes and Jaguares, and will be favourites in the next match against the Kings in Durban. If the Bulls fail to register another win before the June break, then the Sharks may find themselves in that third qualifying place in the South African group. As things stand, the Sharks currently occupy that wild-card spot.
The Kings went down 34-20 to the Cheetahs in Port Elizabeth in round 12. It now seems likely that the Eastern Cape side will finish the 2016 season with their winless record against South African opponents intact.
The Kings will be underdogs when they travel to Kings Park to tackle the Sharks. You wouldn’t put money on them to beat the Stormers at Newlands or the Lions at Ellis Park later in the tournament. It will be interesting to see what transpires, however, when they host the unpredictable Jaguares in round 14.
Photo: Sydney Seshibedi/Gallo Images