Crusaders loss aids Lions’ hopes
Cape Town - Was it always too much to expect as many as four New Zealand sides to stay in contention for the Super Rugby finals series this year?
A second successive home defeat on Friday for the seven-time champion Crusaders - thumped 26-9 by local conference rivals the Chiefs - leaves them pretty close now to waving goodbye to any lingering playoffs hopes.
The Canterbury outfit have now slipped to five defeats from nine matches, which means they are tenuously-placed for making the top six cut after ordinary season, and smart money instead to join the Blues as also-rans from a New Zealand point of view.
They lie eighth overall at present, on 20 points from nine matches, an identical record to under-performing big South African franchise the Sharks in ninth, though the Crusaders have a better “for-and-against” figure.
Nobody needs reminding the Sharks - yet to tour abroad, either - that they are similarly in a precarious situation playoffs-wise, though they do have the opportunity to jump a bit clear of the ‘Saders if they beat the Bulls in their Kings Park derby on Saturday (or at the very least pick up a bonus point or two in defeat).
As for Kieran Read’s outfit, they now face the real possibility that they will fail to make the last-six cut for the first time since the advent of the three-conference system in 2011.
The once-mighty ‘Saders failing to register even a losing bonus point on Friday also ensures that the admirably competitive Lions, another SA side still with reasonable playoffs aspirations and one point ahead of both the Crusaders and Sharks, remain just outside the coveted top six, in seventh.
Johan Ackermann’s charges have a well-earned bye this weekend after a productive spell, but the Crusaders losing is a good result for them, as it may have helped elbow out another of the mid-table field vying desperately in a few weeks’ time to sneak through the playoffs funnel.
The Jo’burgers (seven games left, four at home) would not have minded too much the Chiefs banking four gleeful log points in Christchurch to march, at least for a day, to the top of the overall log as they would not realistically expect to finish up in one of the higher finals series berths: just getting there would be an excellent outcome.
It is a slightly deceptive table situation as the Waikato side are now a mere point clear (on 32 points from nine games) of the still-unbeaten Hurricanes, although the Wellington combo have two games in hand which include Saturday’s tricky home task against the title-holding Waratahs.
The Hurricanes sink suddenly to an unjust fourth overall, for the remainder of Friday, only because of the conference system rules which dictate that each of the conference leaders have to occupy the top three positions.
Going into Saturday’s busy, six-match programme, the top six looks like this:
1 Chiefs (P9, 32 points)
2 Brumbies (P8, 25 points)
3 Bulls (P8, 24 points)
4 Hurricanes (P7, 31 points)
5 Highlanders (P7, 24 points)
6 Stormers (P8, 22 points).
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