Town - The Stormers have their noses in front of the Waratahs and Brumbies now
for rights to the key second home semi-final in Super Rugby 2015.
A New Zealand-staged semi,
plus a team from that impressive conference ending top overall - either the
Hurricanes or Highlanders - is already guaranteed.
With two rounds to go, the
equation in the SA v Australia scrap to secure second spot on the combined
table is pretty simple: if Allister Coetzee’s charges can bank nine points out
of a possible 10 in their remaining two matches of ordinary season, they will
definitely confirm themselves as those other home semi-finalists.
Beating both the Lions at
Newlands next Saturday, and then the Sharks at Kings Park a week onward, and
taking a four-try bonus point from one of the derbies, would propel them to 52
points at the finish from their current 43.
That would be enough, because
the very most either of the defending champion ‘Tahs or Brumbies can achieve
from this point is also 52 (from 42 apiece), and that is assuming they get full
houses from both remaining own fixtures.
The Waratahs wind up their
South African mini-tour by tackling the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein before flying
home to meet the Reds in Sydney, while the Canberra-based side play the Force
in Perth and then Crusaders back at home.
So if the trio of home
semi-chasers all end up on those 52 points - which is reasonably unlikely
anyway - it is the Stormers who would bag the lucrative match on the grounds of
having won more ordinary-season games than the others.
They would have triumphed in
12 games to the 11 of the Waratahs and 10 of the Brumbies.
Of course lesser permutations
could also still land the Stormers a Newlands semi-final, depending on the
results all three get over the next enthralling fortnight, but it is still
worth Duane Vermeulen and company storing in their minds that 52-point absolute
guarantee of a safe passage to it.
The Stormers, now very
clear-cut domestic conference leaders and strong favourites to stay there, had
a Saturday of double productivity, given their own 42-12 thumping of the
Cheetahs in a pleasingly dominant showing both up front and for verve behind
the engine room, and then the Lions’ deserved 27-22 downing of the Waratahs.
The Johannesburg outcome was
exactly what they would have wanted in keeping the ‘Tahs at arm’s length, even
if it also kept the Lions’ long-shot hopes alive of not only cracking the
finals series for the first time but also stealing the conference.
For the particularly unlikely
latter to happen, they will need to beat the Stormers in their own den next
weekend - ideally by a convincing margin, too - and then also hold thumbs that
in the final round, when Warren Whiteley’s bunch of braves have an inconvenient
bye, the Sharks can knock over the Capetonians.
How the Lions must yearn for
the old, daft system of giving inactive teams four log points for every bye
Truth be told, they may
finally be “dead” by then anyway, as the Stormers will be considered favourites
by many pundits to win the appealing clash and be certain of the domestic
bragging rights in the 2015 competition.
Whatever the outcome, it is
highly appropriate and pleasing that both these two SA sides - the standout
pair in the country this season - enter the encounter with something at stake
for both parties, and it should ensure a healthy gate.
It is in many ways a repeat
of the Newlands Currie Cup final in late October last year, when Western
Province edged the Lions 19-16.
On that ding-dong occasion,
though, WP were especially deprived of a Springbok contingent, so could not
field any of the likes of Vermeulen, Frans Malherbe, Eben Etzebeth and Damian
Massively in-form loosehead
prop Steven Kitshoff was also on the long-term injury list then.
For the Stormers not to
clinch the conference, at the very minimum, an implosion of some note will have
to take place over the course of their next two games.
The woefully under-performing
Bulls are not yet completely out of the picture: they are seven points behind
the Stormers and also with two games left, against the Rebels in their last
overseas tour match and then the Cheetahs at Loftus.
Next weekend’s matches (home
teams first, all kickoffs SA time):
Friday, June 5
Hurricanes v Highlanders -
Force v Brumbies - 13:00
Saturday, June 6
Rebels v Bulls - 07:30
Blues v Crusaders - 09:35
Reds v Chiefs - 11:40
Cheetahs v Waratahs - 15:00
Stormers v Lions - 17:05
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