Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town – While still having to maintain a key focus on
their own fortunes, the Stormers will be anxiously monitoring three red-letter New
Zealand Super Rugby derbies in the coming weeks – all featuring the Chiefs.
This pair remain the two teams likeliest to be in with a
good shout at securing the money-spinning home final, with the Waikato side
favourites at this point purely in log terms.
The Chiefs currently head the overall pack with 58 points
from 13 games, four ahead of their Newlands-based closest rivals who have won
as many games (11) but trail in the bonus points department where they are yet
to earn even one on a four-try basis.
Few would dispute that the New Zealanders, however, have the
tougher ordinary-season run-in: all three of their games are derbies, and against
sides similarly jockeying fiercely for playoffs places.
The Chiefs resume their programme after the three-week
hiatus on Friday, away to the Highlanders who are fairly long shots now to
reach the last six, as they lie eighth overall and have been beaten five times.
But they are not mathematically out of the picture by any
means and will throw the kitchen sink at the Chiefs in Dunedin (09:35 SA time).
The Stormers will be hoping that the Highlanders can pull
off the minor upset, because if they, themselves, then beat the Lions at home
on Saturday evening (17:05) they might well also unseat the Chiefs from their
It hardly gets easier for the Chiefs next weekend: it is
then that they host the ever-formidable Crusaders, who retain an outside chance
of topping the NZ conference, before rounding off their itinerary away to the unpredictable
If it all comes down to the final weekend, starting July 13,
to determine who ends top overall (and assuming the Chiefs and Stormers remain
the best-placed pair) again the Stormers could have an inside lane – their own
last assignment is at Newlands against Aussie relative strugglers the Melbourne
In a nutshell, two wins for the Stormers in their last three
matches (Lions, Cheetahs, Rebels) and only one for the Chiefs might be enough
for the Capetonians to set up their maiden home final in the competition if, of
course, they also prevail in a semi.
Just for the record, in last season’s competition the Chiefs
lost 23-13 away to the Highlanders, 34-16 at home to the Crusaders, and 29-26
away to the Hurricanes, so any repeat of that sequence would suit the Stormers
particularly nicely, thank you.
But it has to be kept in mind that the Chiefs were also not
nearly the compelling unit they’ve been so far in 2012 – they ended a humdrum
10th overall last year.
As for the Stormers, they beat the Lions at home 19-16 in
2011, the Cheetahs away 44-34, and did not play the Rebels at Newlands,
although in the Melbourne meeting they thumped them 40-3.
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