The Lions remain in a strong position to top Africa 2 despite the Sharks’ big win at Newlands, writes JON CARDINELLI.
The Lions have completed their three-match overseas tour. Apart from an away match against the Jaguares, which will take place on 16 July, the Lions will play the remainder of their regular season games in South Africa.
At present, they sit at third in the South African group and are thus in a position to qualify for the playoffs. Of course, the Sharks (first in the South African group), and the Stormers (second) will still need to travel overseas.
The Lions return from the recent three-match sojourn with two wins and nine log points. They will play the Cheetahs this coming weekend, a side that battled in its recent match against the newly formed Sunwolves.
The Sharks currently top Africa 2 and the South African group with 13 log points. And yet the pressure is on Gary Gold’s side to maintain that position. They will travel up to Loftus Versfeld on Friday to battle a Bulls side that is coming off a bye. Thereafter, the Sharks will host the Crusaders.
After the win against the Stormers, Gold pointed out that the Lions were in the best position. The Johannesburg-based franchise is returning to South Africa on the back of a successful overseas tour. By contrast, the Sharks and indeed the rest of the South African teams, will have it all to do when they venture abroad in the coming months.
The Stormers lost this past weekend, but still managed to secure a losing bonus point. They remain at the top of Africa 1 and a full five log points ahead of the next best placed team, the Cheetahs. In 2016, a team needs only top their conference to secure a home playoff, and in this respect the Stormers are still well placed.
The Cheetahs could go down to the Lions this week, a result that will please the Stormers. However, the Cape side will also be underdogs in their fixture against the Brumbies.
The side from Canberra has been in rampant form this season. A visit to Newlands will hold no fear for a Brumbies team that won by 20 points at this very stadium in the 2015 qualifying playoff.
The big South African derby in round four will be at Loftus. The Sharks in their current guise have the ability to out-bully the Bulls. A Sharks win would suit the Stormers, who are in the same conference as the side from Pretoria.
Meanwhile, the Kings look set for another hammering, this time at the hands of the Crusaders. The Eastern Cape franchise has fared worse than anyone expected them to in 2016. They lost by 35 points to the Sharks in round one, and by 34 points to the Chiefs in round three. Both of the Kings' matches were played at home.
Even the Sunwolves have been competitive in the initial rounds. At this rate, the new side from Japan will be favourites to win the battle of the minnows in Port Elizabeth on 2 April.
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