S15: Still hope for SA final

    2012-06-27 12:06

    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 loftiest perch.

    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 Hurricanes.

    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 Rebels.

    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.

    *Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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