What we learned from the latest round of Super Rugby, according to CRAIG LEWIS.
Sharks’ resilience pays off
As the game time ticked towards the hour mark in Saturday’s derby at Kings Park, the Sharks looked certain to suffer an eighth successive defeat to the Lions. At that point, the visitors led by 10 points and appeared to be in complete control of proceedings as they continued to turn down kickable penalties in order to set up an attacking set piece instead. However, in typical Sharks fashion, they turned defence into attack to score two tries largely against the run of play to complete an unexpected 31-24 comeback win. What tells the story of the Sharks’ resilience is the fact that they had to make 171 tackles compared to the Lions’ 97, and yet they missed just 19 (compared to 27 from their opponents). It was this remarkable display on defence that frustrated the Lions, while enabling the Sharks to remain in the game until the opportunity came to strike when it mattered most.
Lions’ position under threat
The Lions have held a position of ascendancy in the South African conference virtually throughout the competition. As the season has gone on, however, it’s become more and more evident that the Lions of 2018 do not possess the same confidence and consistency that carried the team to back-to-back finals over the previous two seasons. On Saturday, the Lions’ finishing once again left a lot to be desired against the Sharks, and the end result was a defeat that leaves their position at the top of the local standings in real jeopardy. Just after the Lions slipped to defeat, the Jaguares completed a clean sweep of wins over South African sides in Argentina as they comfortably overcame the Stormers 25-14. The Jaguares are now just three log points behind the Lions, who have a bye this weekend. That break from action leaves the door open for the Jaguares to leapfrog their way to the top of the South African group should they overcome the Bulls and Sharks in their final two conference fixtures.
Bulls, Stormers’ slim playoff hopes snuffed out
Both the Bulls and Stormers came into round 17 of Super Rugby with their playoff hopes hanging by a thread. Unfortunately for the two South African sides, respective defeats to the Sunwolves and Jaguares have now snuffed out any slim chance of them sneaking into the knockout stage. Both teams are 10 log points behind the final wildcard qualifier (the Rebels in eighth place), and will now be left to reflect on a season of missed opportunities. For the Bulls, three successive defeats have tarnished a campaign that had displayed some encouraging signs earlier on, while the injury-hit Stormers have swung from one disappointing result to another. There is sure to be some increasing pressure building on coach Robbie Fleck after the underperformance of a Stormers team that would have held far loftier ambitions at the start of the season. Bulls coach John Mitchell will also lament the shortcomings of rebuilding a team that has begun to lose its way in recent rounds.
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