The Lions remain at the top of the South African standings following the Bulls’ big win over the Jaguares. The Sharks’ playoff hopes, however, are hanging by a thread, writes JON CARDINELLI.
The penultimate round of the Super Rugby conference phase witnessed a series of upsets and ultimately some significant results in the context of the playoffs.
The Crusaders beat the Highlanders on Friday to secure the New Zealand conference title as well as first place on the overall log. Scott Robertson’s side will host a quarter-final in Christchurch, and possibly a semi-final and final.
The Waratahs thrashed the Sunwolves in Sydney to take an unassailable lead at the top of the Australian conference. They have moved into second place on the overall log – three log points ahead of the South African conference leaders – as a result of that massive bonus-point win.
The Bulls did the Lions and the Sharks a favour when they thumped the Jaguares in Pretoria. At one stage, the Jaguares were 19-0 up and on track for a win that would have catapulted them to the top of the South African standings. In the end, the Argentinians failed to obtain a single log point from the fixture.
There will be everything to play for in the final round. The Lions can clinch the conference title with a win over the Bulls in Johannesburg. However, if the Lions lose to the Bulls and the Jaguares down the Sharks in the later fixture in Durban, then the Argentinians will win the South African division for the first time.
The Sharks suffered a massive setback when they went down 27-16 to the Stormers in Cape Town on Saturday. A win would have boosted them into the top eight with one round left to play.
As it stands, they will need to win their last game and hope that the Rebels slip up in Dunedin. Six log points separate the Jaguares (seventh place), Rebels (eighth) and Sharks (ninth) in the overall standings.
The Hurricanes thumped the Blues in Wellington on Friday to move up to 50 log points. The only team that can surpass them in the coming round – and become the fourth team outside of the conference winners to host a playoff – is the Chiefs.
As fate would have it, the Chiefs are scheduled to play the Hurricanes in Hamilton next week. They will need to beat the Hurricanes by 45 points and claim a bonus point in order to finish the regular season in fourth place.
The Lions will be watching the Australian derby between the Waratahs and Brumbies closely. The Waratahs will secure second place in the overall standings, and most importantly home advantage in a possible semi-final, if they beat the Brumbies in Sydney next week.
Photo: Gordon Arons/Gallo Images