Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town – What price the Lions winning
all four of their remaining ordinary season games in Vodacom Super Rugby 2016?
It’s a reasonably tall order, regardless of
the make-up of the quartet of specific obstacles still to be negotiated by
Warren Whiteley and company: so far their best sequence of victories has been
three this year, a phase when they saw off the Sharks in Durban (24-9),
Stormers in Johannesburg (29-22) and then Kings in Port Elizabeth (45-10).
But if Johan Ackermann’s in-form charges
can save their best for last and somehow pull that feat off, they will be in
with a healthy chance of overall log-topping status and attached rights to
staging the final at Emirates Airline Park if they can advance through the KO
phase all the way to the August 6 showpiece.
That would simultaneously stir sentimental
memories among veteran supporters of the red-and-whites of the final of the
fledgling 1993 Super 10 competition, when Transvaal pipped Auckland 20-17 at
the famous Doornfontein venue.
With just four rounds left – three of them
after the tournament takes a month’s break following this weekend – it may well
be safe to say the Lions (37 points, 11 matches) are the country’s last remaining
prospect of ending top of the entire pile.
While the Sharks are just two points adrift
on 35 points (12 matches), they have a bye yet to negotiate this weekend, so
the drawback of having only three further matches, after the recess, in which
to eclipse the Lions in Africa Conference 2 and – a much, much longer shot –
try to maintain a challenge for first-placed finish overall.
The Bulls and Stormers, in the other Africa
conference, are locked on 32 points each and also probably too far off the pace
now to contemplate premier status competition-wide at the finish of ordinary
Smart money, then, rests pretty heavily on
one of four sprightly, high-riding New Zealand teams ending at the top,
especially as the Chiefs (42) and Crusaders (41) presently occupy slots one and
two from a points-accumulation point of view.
That pair are effectively one win each, in
rough terms, ahead of the Lions, who must also worry about the Highlanders
(similarly on 37 points) and Hurricanes (36) right around them.
But the Lions should still dare to dream of
teeing up rights to a home final, something that will escalate in likelihood
significantly if they can overcome the formidable hurdle of the Bulls – still
not beaten at Loftus this season – in a Pretoria derby on Saturday (17:05).
The untimely loss of flyhalf Elton Jantjies
to a broken finger for the cross-Hennops clash is a blow of some magnitude to
the Lions, though it seems he will be fit again in time for at least some,
deserved service to the Springbok cause against Ireland during June and then be
back at his string-pulling post for the Lions for the remainder of the Super
If they decide to install Marnitz Boshoff
to the vacant No 10 berth on Saturday, however, they will at least do so in the
knowledge that he is an experienced 27-year-old campaigner with plenty of prior
exposure to Super Rugby and a strong place-kicking boot when striking the ball
Knock over the Bulls, and the Lions will
have to be taken seriously in New Zealand as potential stumbling blocks to that
country hosting a second Super Rugby final in as many years.
Their remaining games after that see them
entertain the Sharks in another derby humdinger (keep in mind that they won
with some daylight in the corresponding Durban meeting on April 9), then play
the highly beatable Kings, and end with a trip to Buenos Aires to tackle the
Jaguares on July 16 – the very last match of ordinary season, so they will know
exactly what they need to do if it is still relevant.
In the Lions’ favour, if they can keep on
winning, is that several “neutralising” New Zealand derbies are still to take
place in the climax period of ordinary season, so there is going to be some
sacrificing of points by heavyweights in those.
Examples are the Chiefs playing both the
Crusaders and Highlanders, and the Hurricanes taking on the Highlanders and
Also, while 2012 and 2013 champions the
Chiefs currently head the pack, three of their four last matches are away (the
same applies to the Highlanders) so they can feel far from comfortable or
complacent on their lofty perch.
Here are the remaining fixtures for all of
the current top five teams in the competition from a “points gained”
Chiefs (played 11, 42 points): Waratahs
(a), Crusaders (h), Reds (a), Highlanders (a)
Crusaders (played 11, 41 points): Blues
(a), Chiefs (a), Rebels (h), Hurricanes (h)
Lions (played 11, 37 points): Bulls (a),
Sharks (h), Kings (h), Jaguares (a)
Highlanders (played 11, 37 points):
Hurricanes (a), Kings (a), Jaguares (a), Chiefs (h)
Hurricanes (played 11, 36 points):
Highlanders (h), Blues (h), Waratahs (a), Crusaders (a)
our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing