Lions have big playoffs say
Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town – They are much admired this season by South
African neutrals, but are the Lions’ finals series aspirations in Super Rugby
2015 really taken seriously by those celebrating their unanticipated endurance?
Let me suggest this much: if they upset the Bulls in
Saturday’s main domestic feature at Loftus (19:10), it should be enough to
finally do the trick if that hasn’t occurred already.
Certainly it will go a long way to banishing any lingering
doubts (unscientific, and pure gut feel) in my own mind about their ability to
last the pace and have a real sniff at qualifying for the playoffs for the
There is also the chance that, if they do manage to complete
a season “double” over the Bulls – memories of their last-gasp 22-18 triumph in
Johannesburg on April 4 still fresh in the minds of many – they might do what
the Stormers managed in the latest round, and leapfrog the men from Pretoria in
If that sounds particularly unpalatable to the Bulls
faithful, no doubt frustrated that their favourites so nearly did enough to win
at Newlands, it is worth pointing out that the home side, with pack mastermind
Victor Matfield seemingly set to make a timely return, will remain smarter
money to bag this one.
The Bulls know this much: defeat is just not an option in
what is their second-last home fixture and the “curtain-raiser” (even though
they have a bye the next weekend) to their ever-challenging overseas leg.
Nevertheless, the Lions are on a magnificent, five-game
winning roll and much stranger things have already happened competition-wide this
season than Warren Whiteley’s spirited troops successfully raiding their
neighbouring city on Saturday night.
Should they do the business and end up a whisker in front or
perhaps level-pegging with the Bulls on log points after 11 games each, the
Lions would embark on a five-game run-in involving a favourable 3-2 split
between home and away matches (and all on SA soil anyway) whereas the Bulls
would be facing a greatly less favourable 1-4 situation.
One small thing to the Bulls’ advantage, should the
cross-Jukskei rivalry for a place in the last six happen to go down to the very
last day of ordinary season, is that their last obligation is back at home to
the Cheetahs, whereas the Lions will be the only team of the entire 15 with an undesirable
final-round bye – that wouldn’t have been so bad in the daft days of four
guaranteed points on such occasions!
But let’s not lose sight of another thing: even if the Lions
were gradually to fade from contention themselves, most of their remaining
matches are ones that could affect either qualification itself or eventual
positioning within the finals series for compatriots the Stormers and Bulls.
Their three games left at Emirates Airline Park are all
against overseas sides scrapping hard themselves to make the cut for the
knockout phase – it could be really helpful to SA group-mates (not to mention
themselves) if they get generally good results in the Big Smoke against the
Highlanders, Brumbies and defending champions the Waratahs.
Hopefully the Lions will be jostling valiantly right to the
finish: considering their unity and great energy up to this point, it would be
a surprise if that was not the case, wouldn’t it?
between the Bulls and Lions since the start of the conference system, with
history counting against an away-team victory this time:
2011: Bulls 30 Lions 23
2012: Bulls 37 Lions 20
2013: Lions absent
2014: Bulls 25 Lions 17
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