CAPE 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 King’s 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 round!
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 de Allende.
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. — Sport24