The Lions and Sharks claimed big victories in round 11 to strengthen their respective bids for playoff qualification, writes JON CARDINELLI.
It's very much a tale of two conferences as far as South African rugby is concerned. In Africa 1, the Bulls, Stormers and Cheetahs have combined for just one win in 10 matches against Kiwi opposition this season (and zero from five on New Zealand soil). The Stormers recently concluded their disastrous tour with a 41-22 loss to the Hurricanes.
In Africa 2, the South African teams continue to enjoy success against weak Australian teams. The Lions claimed their second consecutive bonus-point win in Australia when they thumped the Rebels 47-10 on Saturday. The Sharks picked up four log points in the game against the Force at home.
The Lions now enjoy a 16-point lead over the Stormers at the top of the South African group. Johan Ackermann's charges will be chasing a big scalp in Canberra next week. A win against the Brumbies will boost them 20 points clear of the second-placed Stormers, who will have a bye in round 12.
The Stormers still hold a 12-point lead over the Bulls in the Africa 1 conference, despite the fact that they've lost their last four games. The Sharks (32) have more log points than the Stormers (26), but according to tournament rules, each of the conference leaders is entitled to a place in the group's top two. At the end of the conference stage, the teams occupying those positions will host playoff matches.
As long as the Sharks trail the Lions in Africa 2, they can't finish higher than third in the South African group. After 11 rounds, the Lions lead the Sharks by 10 points in Africa 2.
With regards to the race for that third qualifying position, the Sharks are well clear of other South African contenders. The Kings (15), Bulls (14) and Cheetahs (11) are unlikely to make the playoffs from here.
It won't get any easier for the Bulls, who went down 62-24 to the Crusaders in Pretoria this past Saturday. After hosting the Highlanders in round 12, they will travel to Johannesburg to take on the rampant Lions.
While the Cheetahs lost to the Highlanders on Friday, they managed to come away from that clash with a losing bonus point. They may battle to claim any log points when they travel to New Zealand to play the Blues and then the Hurricanes, though.
The Kings scored a historic win against the Waratahs in Sydney, and followed that success up with a record-breaking victory over the Rebels. They will go into their next clash against the Sharks at home with confidence.
A win, or even a losing bonus point, will allow the Kings (15) to increase their lead over teams like the Bulls (14) and Cheetahs (11). Each of those teams will be looking to avoid the embarrassment of finishing at the bottom of the South African pile.
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