The Sharks remain in a strong position to secure a wildcard quarter-final berth despite suffering a disappointing defeat to the Lions on Saturday, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
After succumbing to a 37-10 loss at Ellis Park, the Sharks would have apprehensively turned their attention to the late game between the Bulls and Jaguares in Buenos Aires.
A win for the Bulls would have enabled them to leapfrog the Sharks into the third-placed qualifying position in the South African group, but the Pretoria-based side ultimately slipped to their fourth defeat in five matches.
The Sharks will have breathed a sigh of relief, while knowing that they can secure their playoff place with wins over the Cheetahs and Sunwolves in their final two conference games, both of which will be played at Kings Park.
Interestingly, it’s the same two sides that the Bulls will play over the final two weeks of conference action, but the Bulls will have to travel to Bloemfontein for what could turn out to be a challenging encounter in their final regular season fixture next Saturday.
By then, though, the Bulls will already know their fate as the Sharks take on the Sunwolves next Friday, and ultimately it’s the Durban-based side that can control their own destiny over the next couple of weeks.
Meanwhile, for the Lions, there will be an opportunity to carefully manage some of their players that have carried an excessive work load as the Johannesburg-based side have already secured a home quarter-final berth with that convincing win over the Sharks.
The Lions have currently accrued more log points than any other side in the competition, and they will also still be mindful of maintaining this advantage over their counterparts from the other conferences in order to poentially book a home semi-final and final.
It also looks all but certain that the other quarter-final will be hosted in Cape Town, with the Stormers having opened up a virtually unassailable nine-point lead at the top of the Africa 1 conference after their good win over the Rebels in Melbourne.
Matters are far closer in the Australian conference, with the Brumbies and Waratahs tied on 39 log points at the summit, while just two points separate the Chiefs, Crusaders and Hurricanes at the top of the New Zealand conference.
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