CRAIG LEWIS rates the 15 teams after 18 rounds of the Vodacom Super Rugby tournament.
The Super Rugby conference system makes for confusing reading regarding the respective team standings in the tournament.
SARugbymag.co.za’s senior writer identifies the form teams as well as the bottom-feeders at the conclusion of the pool stages.
1. Crusaders (11-3-2) – last week’s ranking: 1
The Crusaders weren’t in action during the final round of the pool stages, but despite the bye, the defending champs were always guaranteed a deserved top-of-the-table finnish.
2. Hurricanes (12-1-3) – last week’s ranking: 2
The Canes didn’t have it all their own way against the Blues on Saturday, and required three second-half tries to claim a 29-24 victory over the Blues. Nevertheless, there can be no denying that the Hurricanes have been the next-best team to the Crusaders throughout this season.
3. Jaguares (11-5) – last week’s ranking: 3
The side from Argentina have enjoyed a rousing finish to the pool stages, with their bonus-point win over the Sunwolves in round 18 sealing second place on the official standings. The Jaguares claimed that spot as a result of their dominance in the SA conference, but they are ranked third here due to the fact that they finished with two log points less than the Canes.
4. Brumbies (10-6) – last week’s ranking: 4
You have to hand it to the Brumbies. The Australian side finished the league stage with six consecutive wins, having firmly established themselves as the best team from Down Under.
5. Vodacom Bulls (8-2-6) – last week’s ranking: 5
The Bulls deservedly finished as the highest-placed South African side this season after a memorable 48-27 win over the Lions on Saturday. It was another rousing result from a team that has emerged as the surprise package of the 2019 tournament.
6. Chiefs (7-2-7) – last week’s ranking: 10
You have to hand it to the Chiefs. They endured a dire start to this season, but have gone from strength to strength as it’s progressed. On Friday, the Chiefs banked a big win over the Rebels to secure a playoff place.
7. Highlanders (6-3-7) – last week’s ranking: 11
The Landers finished the pool stages with an impressive 49-12 win over the Waratahs, and have deservedly done just enough to secure a playoff place. They are a team that could certainly spring a surprise in a knockout battle
8. Sharks (7-1-8) – last week’s ranking: 6
The Sharks snatched a playoff place with a last-gasp try against the Stormers on Saturday. For almost the entire regulation 80 minutes, they had hardly looked like scoring, but you have to applaud the gumption they displayed when it mattered most.
9. Lions (8-8) – last week’s ranking: 7
The Lions will be gutted as they failed to pick up a solitary log point against the Bulls on Saturday and missed out on the playoffs as a result. Unfortunately, a rebuilding team that was highly affected by injuries ultimately could not repeat the heroics of years gone by, which saw them finish as runners-up over the last three seasons
10. Stormers (7-1-8) – last week’s ranking: 6
It was heartbreak for the Stormers on Saturday as they succumbed to a painful loss to the Sharks in the dramatic final stages at Newlands. In some ways, though, it summed up a campaign that has been mostly hit and miss.
11. Rebels (7-9) – last week’s ranking: 8
It’s been a nightmare finish to this season for the Rebels. After conceding a whopping 66 points against the Crusaders, they then fell to a 59-8 defeat against the Chiefs on Friday as they well and truly disappeared from the playoff reckoning.
12. Blues (5-1-10) – last week’s ranking: 12
The Blues have produced some sprightly moments of magic this season, but also regularly failed to finish off winning results. That was the case once again on Saturday, as they ultimately succumbed to an agonising defeat against the Canes, which rather aptly summed up their campaign.
13. Waratahs (6-10) – last week’s ranking: 13
This has really been a season to forget for the former champs, with Friday’s heavy loss to the Highlanders ending a campaign that they will quickly want to consign to the scrapheap.
14. Reds (6-10) – last week’s ranking: 14
The Reds have done very little to make an impression in the tournament this season, and on Saturday, they were once again no match for the Brumbies. It does make one wonder whether Australia can even justify having four teams in the competition.
15. Sunwolves (2-14) – last week’s ranking: 15
The end to the pool stages could not come soon enough for the Sunwolves. The team from Japan finished off their campaign with a whimper as they suffered a heavy loss to the Jaguares in round 18.