JON CARDINELLI looks at what the respective South African teams need to do in the final round of the Vodacom Super Rugby conference stage to qualify for the playoffs.
The Crusaders took an unassailable lead at the top of the overall log when they thrashed the Rebels 66-0 on Saturday. They will have two weeks to prepare for a quarter-final match in Christchurch, and – should they advance – will have the chance to host a semi-final and final.
The Brumbies beat the Waratahs 35-24 in Sydney while the Jaguares were too strong for the Sharks. As a result, they have clinched the Australian and South African conference titles respectively.
It remains to be seen, though, which of the Brumbies or Jaguares will finish in second position. The opportunity to host a potential semi-final is still up for grabs. The Jaguares must be favourites, given they will face the Sunwolves in the final round.
The Hurricanes (49) have more log points than both the Brumbies and Jaguares at present. Due to the competition format – which guarantees each of the conference winners a top-three place – John Plumtree’s side will finish in fourth. This will give them the chance to host a quarter-final though.
The rest of the teams, of course, will be playing for wildcard spots. Here is what each of the South Africa teams need to do to secure a playoff place:
The Bulls picked up a valuable draw in Dunedin on Friday. Thanks to the Lions’ big loss to the Hurricanes in Johannesburg and the Sharks’ defeat to the Jaguares in Buenos Aires, they are the best-placed South African side going into the final round.
They’re bound to feel the effects of travel fatigue on the back of a four-game Australasian tour. That said, they shouldn’t want for motivation ahead of their final game against the Lions in Pretoria.
A losing bonus point may be enough to get them into the playoffs. They won’t want to leave anything to chance, though, and should be going all out for a victory.
The Lions will lament their recent performance against the Hurricanes. Failure to garner so much as a losing bonus point sees them trailing the Bulls on the South African log ahead of the decisive derby at Loftus Versfeld.
Like the Bulls, they’ll be wary of the Sharks and Stormers – not to mention others like the Rebels, Chiefs, Highlanders and Waratahs – snapping at their heels. They may sneak into the knockout round on the back of a narrow loss to the Bulls, but only if other results go their way.
The Sharks – considered by some to be South Africa’s best team at the start of the season – will begin the final round outside of the top eight. They failed to pick up a losing bonus point in the defeat to the Jaguares and find themselves needing a big win against the Stormers to qualify.
They’re still two log points ahead of the Chiefs and Highlanders. They should thank the Bulls for drawing with the Highlanders and the Brumbies for downing the Waratahs. The Crusaders also did them a favour by thrashing the Rebels.
The Sharks (33 points) may surpass the Rebels (34) if they beat the Stormers and Dave Wessels’ side goes down to the Chiefs. A loss to the Stormers at Newlands, however, will bring the curtain down on the Sharks’ season.
The Stormers’ impressive performances against the Crusaders and Highlanders came at a great cost. They will go into the final round of the tournament with a much-depleted side, and it remains to be seen if they can finish the conference phase on a high note.
The win against the Sunwolves has kept their playoff hopes alive, though. A victory against the Sharks at Newlands should earn them passage to the knockouts.
That said, the Cape side may finish in eighth place. That would earn them a quarter-final date with the mighty Crusaders in Christchurch. No South African team has ever won a playoff in that part of the world.
Photo: Chris Ricco/BackpagePix