MARIETTE ADAMS and DYLAN JACK debate which South African teams they think will make it through to the Vodacom Super Rugby playoffs.
Adams says… Vodacom Bulls, Stormers, Lions
Selecting the form – let alone standout – South African team for this season is in itself a predicament because the four local sides have been equally inconsistent and at times abysmal, to be honest. So, to stick your neck out and predict which teams will advance to the playoffs is more than a little risky, especially since we’ll see out the round-robin stage with two local derbies.
Let’s start with the most likely playoff contenders: the Bulls.
Coach Pote Human’s side are currently fifth on the combined table with 36 logs points. They host the Lions at Loftus on Saturday and regardless of the result, the Bulls can’t realistically finish lower than eighth. So you can pencil them in as quarter-finalists, it’s just a matter of where they may finish on the log to determine who they’ll face in the last eight.
And that brings me to the second-best placed South African team: the Lions.
The men from Johannesburg, somewhat surprisingly, still have their own fate in their hands. A win, draw or losing bonus point will be enough to see them advance to the knockout stage for a fourth consecutive season. That said, the Lions lost by a whopping 18 points to the Bulls at Ellis Park, so in the event of another Bulls victory, a losing bonus point is not a given for the Lions.
But with so much riding on this weekend’s match-up, I suspect it will be a much closer contest this time around, and ultimately we’ll see both of the Gauteng-based franchises slip through the backdoor into the quarters.
And now we’re left with the two coastal sides: The Sharks and the Stormers.
The clash at Newlands will effectively be a straight shootout for a spot in the last eight. Based on form, this result could go either way. In the event of a Stormers win they will be through, and the curtain will fall on the Sharks’ season. Should the visiting Sharks win, they’ll live to make debatable team selections for another week.
That said, the Stormers, despite their dire performance against the Sunwolves, have home ground advantage and this tips the scales slightly in their favour.
All permutations considered, I’m calling the Bulls, Lions and admittedly injury-hit Stormers to all book a spot in the quarter-finals. Unfortunately for two of these sides, that sought-after quarter-final berth will be against the Crusaders, Jaguares or Hurricanes away.
Jack says… Bulls, Sharks and Lions
An intriguing final round of Super Rugby awaits. As it stands, all four South African teams stand a chance of making it through to the playoffs. It feels like it has been ages since that has happened, but it does admittedly owe much to the convoluted structure of the tournament, rather than the consistency that any one of the local franchises have shown this year.
I digress. What will most probably happen with this weekend’s results, is that the Bulls, Sharks and Lions will all go through, with the Stormers being the unfortunate team that have to drop out.
What is interesting, is that so much depends on the result of Friday’s match between the Highlanders and Waratahs, as well as the game between the Rebels and Chiefs.
My imagined scenario would see the Bulls get a regulation four points against the Lions in Pretoria, with the visitors walking away with an important losing bonus point. The earlier South African derby will see the Sharks come away from Newlands with four points. Friday’s match between the Rebels and Chiefs will probably see the Melbourne hosts narrowly beat the visiting New Zealanders.
Those results tallied will mean that the Bulls would finish in fifth place with 40 points, with the Rebels in sixth on 38 points and narrowly behind the Sharks and the Lions, on 37 and 36 points respectively.
That would be enough to see South Africa get three representatives in the playoffs, a respectable number and an improvement on the two of last year.