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Rugby | Vodacom Super Rugby

Emirates Lions © Getty Images

SA teams got what they wanted

With maybe one small debatable exception, the three South African teams that will advance into the Vodacom Super Rugby Finals Series next week got what they wanted from the final round of the regular season.

The Cell C Sharks faced a catch-22 situation in their match against the Emirates Lions and although they will wake up this morning disappointed that they lost 27-10 to their arch-rivals on their home field of Kings Park, they at least wake up on Sunday morning in the bed they know they will sleep in for the rest of the week.

Had they beaten the Lions, thus pegging them back to second position on the log, they’d be waking up early in order to get ready to head to the airport ahead of a flight to New Zealand via Johannesburg and Sydney. They’d be travelling until late Monday night New Zealand time and only be able to start preparing for their Christchurch clash with the Crusaders late on Tuesday.

They are still going to Johannesburg, but they are not flying beyond that, and with their effective quarterfinal scheduled for 2.30pm Saturday afternoon at Emirates Airlines Park, they don’t have to think about travelling until Friday at the earliest.

For the Lions it is a case of one better than the previous year, when they finished second on the final combined log. Top position, which became theirs to play for when the Hurricanes beat the Crusaders 31-22 in Wellington earlier on Saturday, means there is no prospect of them having to travel again in the Super Rugby season. Last year they fell short because they had to travel to New Zealand, that will not be the case this season.

More than that, they will be hosting a Sharks team next week that they have beaten twice in the regular season and comprehensively outplayed on the last day of the league phase. They should fancy their chances of reaching a semifinal, which is likely to be against the team that beat them in last year’s final, the Hurricanes. At least it will be the Hurricanes who have to travel this time.

The DHL Stormers also have the advantage of playing a home quarterfinal against a team they have already beaten this season. They pipped the Chiefs, who weren’t good against the Brumbies on Saturday, at Newlands in early April, and as one of only two New Zealand sides they have beaten this year, they would probably have chosen the Chiefs as their opponents.

There is a small caveat to that though, and this is where the possible small exception comes in. Like the Sharks, they’d have preferred to play play-off games in South Africa rather than New Zealand, and had it turned out differently in Wellington on Saturday, and the Crusaders had clinched top spot, then they faced the prospect of a Johannesburg semifinal if they get past the Chiefs. As it stands now, with the winner of three versus six playing the winner of two versus seven (Crusaders v Highlanders), the chances are they’d have to travel to Christchurch, which has been an historical grave-yard for SA teams.

But of course, had the Crusaders beaten the Hurricanes, the Hurricanes would have come to Cape Town, and the Stormers might not be sure of which team they’d have preferred to play in their quarterfinal.

There is an enticing local double header for South Africans to look forward to this weekend, with the Lions/Sharks game being followed by the Newlands showdown that will conclude the round.

Super Rugby Finals Series round one fixtures

Brumbies v Hurricanes (Canberra, Friday 11.45)

Crusaders v Highlanders (Christchurch, Saturday 09.35)

Emirates Lions v Cell C Sharks (Johannesburg, Saturday 14.30)

DHL Stormers v Chiefs (Cape Town, Saturday 17.00)


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