The fight for sixth place!
There couldn’t have been too many people in the Loftus stands at halftime of South Africa’s conference opener in February who would have predicted that the teams in front of them would be two of three local outfits to qualify for the Super Rugby playoffs this year.
And who could blame them? The scores were tied nil-all, with neither side seeming capable of catching a ball, much less scoring a try. The normally reliable boots of Morne Steyn and Pat Lambie were also misfiring from all over the park.
Even when the scoreboard did eventually start ticking over, there was nothing about either side that screamed “play-off contender”. In fact, our match report that night likened the encounter to a family fight, with it hardly having a winner and no one feeling satisfied afterwards.
Yet, barring a minor miracle somewhere in the competition’s final league round, the same two opening-round protagonists will be in Australia and New Zealand this time next week, preparing for the first round of knockout action.
The permutations for this coming weekend are pretty simple. The Chiefs, the Stormers and the Brumbies have all tied up their respective conferences, and their upcoming matches will simply determine the order of the top three.
Behind them in the three wildcard positions we have the Crusaders and the aforementioned Bulls and Sharks who all have to win this weekend to secure a play-off spot, but – at home against the Force, Lions and Cheetahs respectively – are expected to do so comfortably.
The Reds are hovering just under the radar, and should they win with a bonus-point, they could still spoil the wildcard party because of a superior number of wins. They are up against their arch-enemies, the Waratahs, though, and if the average Australian derby this year is anything to go by, not a lot is expected in terms of try-scoring on Saturday.
That, of course, means that South Africa – for so long the laughing stock of Super Rugby – will in all likelihood become the first country under the new format to provide three teams to the tournament’s play-off stages.
But what does that mean for us? Is it proof that ours was the strongest of the three conferences this year, and will having more teams involved in the finals scrap better our chances of winning the title?
Unfortunately, it’s a no on both accounts.
The strongest conference was New Zealand’s. In the 20 matches where their teams met ours, they came out victors 13 times, with an average score of 27-24 in their favour. It was the same story against Australia, having beaten them 11 out of 18 times with an average score of 29-22.
South Africa ranked second, having beaten Australian teams 14 out of the 19 times they met, racking up an average score of 29-23.
These inter-conference stats show that if we are to end up with three teams in the playoffs, it is only because the Lions and the Cheetahs didn’t put up as much of a fight in derbies as did the likes of the Hurricanes and Highlanders.
The stats also confirm what all of us knew already. If you’re a South African rugby player boarding a plane this Sunday, you’d much rather your destination be Canberra than Christchurch.
And as luck would have it, our likely travellers can have some say in it on Saturday. Currently the Bulls and Sharks both have 54 point on the log, with only the former’s superior points-difference pinning them one place higher in the standings. A four-try bonus point for either side can therefore decide who ends up in fifth place.
But here’s the catch, the fifth-placed side is likely to meet the Crusaders in the playoffs, while team number six takes on the Brumbies. Instead of both sides shooting the lights out on Saturday, we could find them taking turns to try and win in the least spectacular way.
Let’s hope that is not the case. We don’t think it will be. Neither team can afford a self-imposed loss of momentum heading into the knockouts, and both sides will believe that they have the talent to win matches against anyone, anywhere in the world.
Let’s move on to our teams of the week.
Note: our weekly teams are selected on the past weekend's action only, so overall season form is not a factor. Players in teams with a bye are then obviously not considered.
Super XV for week 17:
15. Charles Piutau (Blues) 14. JP Pietersen (Sharks) 13. Andrew Smith (Brumbies) 12. Frans Steyn (Sharks) 11. Hosea Gear (Highlanders) 10. Dan Carter (Crusaders) 9. Andy Ellis (Crusaders) 8. Ryan Kankowski (Sharks) 7. Adam Thomson (Highlanders) 6. Heinrich Brussow (Cheetahs) 5. Hugh Pyle (Rebels) 4. Luke Romano (Crusaders) 3. Ben Tameifuna (Chiefs) 2. Bismarck du Plessis (Sharks) 1. Sona Taumalolo (Chiefs).
Bok Barometer for week 17:
15. Zane Kirchner (Bulls) 14. JP Pietersen (Sharks) 13. Waylon Murray (Lions) 12. Frans Steyn (Sharks) 11. Lwazi Mvovo (Sharks) 10. Peter Grant (Stormers) 9. Michael Bondesio (Lions) 8. Ryan Kankowski (Sharks) 7. Marcell Coetzee (Sharks) 6. Heinrich Brussow (Cheetahs) 5. Franco van der Merwe (Lions) 4. Pieter-Steph du Toit (Sharks) 3. WP Nel (Cheetahs) 2. Bismarck du Plessis (Sharks) 1. Tendai Mtawarira (Sharks).
Match of the week:
We wrote quite a bit about the Sharks and the Bulls already, but we haven’t mentioned their match on Friday as yet.
In what was the Sharks’ best match of the season by quite some distance, they completely shut out the Bulls in the first half with impressive, physical ball-carrying and a solid set piece.
The Bulls got regained some composure after the break, but they could do turn around the massive 20-3 halftime deficit, and they’ll have more questions than answers as they head into this weekend’s final round of league matches.
The match was an example of how difficult the South African blueprint of direct rugby can be to stop, and the fact that it happened to the Bulls was more than just a bit ironic.
Here are the highlights:
Please note that video footage is for the website only and is rights restricted and therefore only available in regions that fall within SuperSport’s broadcast footprint.
Sharks v Bulls
Try of the week:
This week’s top try was the first down in the high-scoring affair between the Lions and the Rebels in the weekend’s final match.
In a flashback to how the Lions played when they won the Currie Cup last year, an early move was started on halfway when the ball was spread right before being sent back inside the cover defence for Waylon Murray to run in the opener.
Here it is:
Waylon Murray try
- Chiliboy Ralepelle and JC Janse van Rensburg, who both played their 50th Super Rugby (SR) matches for their respective franchises.
- Wilhelm Steenkamp, who played in his 50th SR match. (Sharks 5, Cheetahs 13, Bulls 32)
- Aaron Cruden, who became the second player after Morne Steyn to pass the 200-point mark this season.
- Elton Jantjies, who passed the 100-point mark for the season.
Here is this week's look at what players got up to on Twitter:
|For those of you that spent all of last week accusing us of discrimination, here you go: two gingers in one shot. We're just hoping mini-me will go on to emulate his bigger self?
|Up in Bulls country people are more used to winning trophies than they are to dressing up. But if you're in Durban while the July is on, you make an exception. Here we have Chiliboy Ralepelle and Akona Ndungane donning their best kit for a day at the races.
|Ever wonder what is in a referees toolbox, well feast your eyes. We can understand the cards but we’re not quite sure what everything else is for, perhaps a ref could let us know?
|James Haskell chose an interesting way to say goodbye to New Zealand, he autographed the Qantas Boeing he was flying back to England on…we’re not sure it will raise the price of the aircraft, but sure gave his mates a few laughs.
The Bulls loss to the Sharks spawned a number of jokes to torment the pink-faced supporters after their team didn’t do so well in Durban.
The best of course, was the comparison to Nokia, or Jack Parow, whichever is more your fancy, if you “roll with a 3210”.
Either way, the Bulls were the butt of many jokes after that game, especially as one scribe pointed out, “the Sharks won on the field and on Peyper”
SuperSport columnist Dewald Potgieter is full of chirps on twitter lately, especially as he has now found himself a girlfriend.
When teammate Francois Hougaard tweeted this week “Friday in Durban, what to do?”, Potgieter fired back quickly “you do nothing, you sleep” in reply putting his teammate in his place.
Ditto when Hougi and Wynand Olivier posted a pic of them dressed to the nines heading to the Durban July the next day.
As a fashion aficionado Potgieter quickly told them “that’s R50 in the douchebag jar for both of you.”
We can’t wait until Potgieter turns his attention to some of his opposition on twitter. Now that would be fun.
Going for a song
The Waratahs are having a tough season, but they can still have fun.
They posted a video of them singing with The Voice contestant Darren Percival after a training session and were quick to point out in a press release they believe it could be a massive hit.
We’re not so sure, but we’ll leave it up to you.
As another show’s host would say…”you’re the weakest link….goodbye”