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Rugby | Vodacom Super Rugby

Thomas du Toit © Getty Images

It’s all to play for



There were some big losers on the penultimate round of Vodacom Super Rugby, most notably the Jaguares and the Sharks, but it is still all to play for, including top spot in the South African conference, as the league phase heads into the final round.

The good news from a South African viewpoint is that the weekend delivered results that have significantly strengthened the chances of a local team, meaning the Lions, topping the conference. After the Bulls did what their neighbours from Johannesburg were hoping they would do by beating the Jaguares, it means that the Lions now just have to win their last game and they will be sure of qualification for the playoffs as the top South African side.

The small quid pro quo there though is that the Lions’ last game is against the self-same Bulls, who helped them in the penultimate round, and John Mitchell’s team showed against the South Americans that they have regained some of the form they had lost during a difficult few rounds spanning either side of the June break.

The Lions should be expected to beat the Bulls though on their home ground and that will be enough to win the conference for a third successive year. What the Lions don’t know now but will know by the time their game kicks off at Emirates Airlines Park is whether or not they will be playing for second place on the overall log, and therefore a more favourable draw.

The Waratahs’ big win over the Sunwolves at the weekend has enabled the top Australian side to overtake the Lions, meaning that if the log stays as it is at the moment, and first play-off games go according to seeding, the Lions will have to travel for their semifinal this year. Over the past two years their path to the final has been eased by their second (2016) and first position [2017) finishes that enabled them to play most of their knock-out games at altitude, where they are advantaged.

If they are to have that advantage this year it will require the Brumbies to win against the Waratahs, something that gamblers won’t be betting on as Saturday’s game is in Sydney. The Brumbies will also be feeling flat as their narrow defeat to the Chiefs this past weekend ended their own chances of qualification for the playoffs. They are now five log points behind the eighth placed Rebels, which is too much.

Talking of the Rebels, they are still eighth even though they lost to the Reds at the weekend. With neither side picking up a bonus point in their respective matches against the Reds and the Stormers respectively, the distance between the eighth-placed Rebels and the ninth-placed Sharks remains what it was at the start of the penultimate round - three points.

If the Rebels lose to the Highlanders in the last round and the Sharks win in Durban against the Jaguares, then the Sharks go through. So while the Sharks should be disappointed at losing a gilt-edged opportunity to ease into the top eight, they need to get over their disappointment from the Cape Town result quickly and focus on the next task at hand.

The Jaguares are now out of range of the Sharks, so they will definitely qualify for a place in the playoffs regardless of what happens elsewhere. A Lions loss though will give them a chance of making it into the playoffs as the top finisher in the South African conference.

Remaining fixtures and what the teams need to do (home teams first):

Highlanders v Rebels (If Rebels win they qualify for the playoffs)

Waratahs v Brumbies (Waratahs win would make sure of second-placed overall finish)

Lions v Bulls (Lions win will win the conference, second place overall theirs if Waratahs lose)

Sharks v Jaguares (Sharks make it if they win and Rebels lose, Jaguares top if they win and Lions lose)

OTHER FIXTURES FINAL WEEKEND

Chiefs v Hurricanes (both teams qualified for playoffs already)

Reds v Sunwolves (nothing on the game between two cellar-dwellers)

Crusaders v Blues (Crusaders already assured of top, nothing on the game)



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