Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town – If it is meant to be a day on the calendar
marked by wretched luck, quite the opposite occurred for the grateful Stormers
on this particular Friday 13th
Instead it was Super Rugby rivals the Chiefs who felt the
effects of ill fortune as a try was awarded against them -- by touch-and-go
television match official verdict -- more than four minutes after the siren in
Wellington for New Zealand conference rivals the Hurricanes to sneak a key
Although the Chiefs, who earned a losing bonus point,
retained top spot on the overall standings their position is now considerably
more tenuous in terms of the rights to a possible home final.
The Stormers simply require two points – a draw would
achieve that, albeit unlikely considering there haven’t been any in the
competition all season –in their home match against the Melbourne Rebels on
Saturday (15:00) to ensure the top berth.
Perhaps more relevantly, the result at the Cake Tin after an
enthralling NZ derby means that the Newlands-based team, in the midst of a rich
winning habit, will not require four tries against the Rebels; just another
basic triumph will do.
They have only played the limited Rebels once before,
beating them 40-3 with a bonus point in Australia last season, so suddenly being
defeated would be a jaw-dropper of note throughout the SANZAR territory: pundit
Naas Botha was confident enough in the SuperSport studio to venture that “it
just won’t happen”.
Whatever the argument about the reasonably unexciting
playing style the Stormers have employed this year, if they see off the Rebels
they will have earned 14 wins from their 16 ordinary-season fixtures – two more
than the Chiefs.
Friday’s lone match threw the Hurricanes a lifeline by
propelling them to 57 points and fourth place overall, simultaneously cranking
up the pressure on South Africa’s other playoffs hunters the Bulls and Sharks.
The domestic sides slipped one rung each, to sixth and
seventh respectively, with the Sharks thus elbowed just out of the playoffs
But both teams have home derbies in hand on Saturday (the
Bulls entertain the Lions and Sharks host the Cheetahs) and may only need wins
without bonus points to be sure of spots in the finals series if the Reds win
their own, all-Aussie affair against the Waratahs without managing to cross the
whitewash four times in Brisbane.
Such a scenario would push the Hurricanes and the
defending-champion Reds out of the playoffs, leaving South Africa with the
satisfaction of three sides making the cut, along with two from New Zealand
(Chiefs and almost certainly Crusaders) and one from Australia in the shape of
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