Stormers soar, Sharks slip

The Stormers strengthened their log position while the Sharks suffered another setback in their bid for the Africa 2 title, writes JON CARDINELLI.

The biggest winners in round five were the Lions. While the Johannesburg-based side enjoyed a bye this past weekend, a couple of results went their way.

The Stormers hung on for an ugly yet monumental win in Buenos Aires. The result sees the Stormers consolidating their position at the top of the Africa 1 conference. It also helps the Lions and Sharks with regard to maintaining a gap between themselves and the Jaguares on the Africa 2 log.

Not that the Sharks will be in any mood to celebrate. They missed out on a victory at Loftus Versfeld in round four when Joe Pietersen sent a last-gasp penalty attempt wide. They failed to bounce back against the Crusaders in Durban in round five.

The Lions could well overtake the Sharks at the top of the Africa 2 conference this coming weekend. Johan Ackermann’s side is coming off a bye, and will be determined to make a statement after the break.

One needs to remember that the Lions have already completed their Australasian tour, and will play all but one of their remaining league matches in South Africa. A win against the Crusaders at Ellis Park would strengthen their position on both the Africa 2 conference and South African group logs. They will have another big opportunity the following week when they venture down to Kings Park for a match that could decide the Africa 2 conference.

The Sharks desperately need to win that derby on 9 April. Following that match, they will travel to New Zealand for three games. They will return to South Africa to play one match, against another formidable Kiwi side in the Hurricanes, before flying to Argentina to face the Jaguares.

The Stormers ticked a big box when they beat the Jaguares in Argentina. While there was a lot wrong with the performance, there was nothing wrong with the result.

They will go into their bye with plenty of confidence. They will be favourites to beat the Sunwolves at Newlands in round seven and strengthen their claim for the Africa 1 conference title.

The Bulls have plenty to do if they’re going to deny the Stormers a title or claim the third qualifying berth in the South African group. They have a relatively easy schedule over the next three weeks (the Cheetahs at home, the Kings away, and the Reds at home). If the Bulls score three big wins before their Australian tour, they will ascend the local ladder and push for a qualifying spot.

The hapless Cheetahs would do well to finish in the top half of the South African group. Their recent defeat to the Brumbies marked their sixth straight loss in Bloemfontein. If they’re struggling at home, one shudders to imagine how they will fare when they tour Australia next month.

The Kings were better against the Hurricanes than they were against the Crusaders. And yet they still lost by 22 points.

Over the course of their four games, the Kings have conceded 200 points. To illustrate the difference between them and the other basement dwellers, the Force have conceded 156 points, the Cheetahs 149 and the Sunwolves 123.

While the Kings and Sunwolves have lost all four of their respective matches, the latter side has managed to garner two log points. The two teams will meet in Port Elizabeth this coming Saturday. The Kings will enjoy home advantage, and yet it's the Sunwolves who will feel confident about claiming an important victory.

Photo: Gabriel Rossi/STF

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