Cape Town - Sport24’s Herman Mostert highlights FIVE talking points after Round 17 of the 2017 Super Rugby competition:
1. Pro 14 curtain-raiser in PE
The Southern Kings and Cheetahs bowed out of Super Rugby on Friday night when they duelled in Port Elizabeth.
After trailing 20-6 with 15 minutes remaining, the Cheetahs scored as many points to sneak a 21-20 win and end the tournament on a high.
But it wasn’t enough for them to save face in what was another average season in the southern hemisphere showpiece.
The Cheetahs won only four out of 15 games, while the Kings can hold their heads high after surprisingly bagging six wins.
The game was also a taste of what’s to come as both teams are expected to join Europe’s Pro12 competition which consists of teams from Ireland, Scotland, Wales and Italy.
The official announcement is expected this week, with the event to be rebranded as Pro14.
2. Lions grab the initiative
Following the Crusaders’ loss to the Hurricanes on Saturday morning, the Lions went into their clash against the Sharks in Durban knowing that a victory would see them finish atop the overall standings.
They did so with relative ease against a listless Sharks outfit, who in all likelihood preferred to lose this game.
Had the Sharks won, they would have faced a daunting trip to Christchurch against the Crusaders.
Now they only have to travel to Johannesburg to again face the Lions in the quarter-finals.
The Lions’ final log position means that they will host the final if they progress past two home knockout games.
They are now favourites to win Super Rugby.
3. Sharks appear in a world of hurt
Yes, the Sharks had reason to not give it their all against the Lions, but given the way they performed this season, they should be beaten with relative ease at Ellis Park this weekend.
There are a lots of talented individuals in the Sharks line-up, but they are not gelling as a team.
Coach Robert du Preez’s depressing demeanour in the post-match presser on Saturday night was not a welcome sight, with the former Springbok scrumhalf having a go at the on-field attitude of his players.
Attitudes across the board need to improve if the Sharks are to mount any sort of challenge in the playoffs.
4. Unconvincing Stormers, Bulls
In years gone by, a Stormers win over the Bulls at Loftus Versfeld would have been greeted with much enthusiasm.
But that’s simply not the case given the weak stature of the Bulls this season.
The Stormers’ performance also did little to suggest that they will go further in this competition.
The Capetonians were again guilty of poor defence, their lineouts were a shambles for most of the afternoon, and the loose manner in which they played will play right into the hands of the Kiwi sides.
The Stormers’ win over the Chiefs at Newlands earlier in the season was by far their best effort of the campaign and they can at least take heart from that result as they brace for the same opponents in the quarter-finals.
If the Stormers perform like they did in the past few weeks, then the 60-21 drubbing they took from the Chiefs in last season's quarter-finals is not out the reckoning.
Meanwhile for the Bulls, it’s fair to say that their performances in 2017 were inexcusable.
Winning only four out of 15 games in a campaign which included losses to the Sunwolves and Kings cannot be defended for a franchise of such stature.
The three-time champions are South Africa’s most successful team in Super Rugby but have regressed since winning their last title in 2010.
The Bulls appear to have struggled to adapt to Nollis Marais’ intent to evolve them into a more attack-minded unit and new coach John Mitchell has a tough task at hand.
Mitchell will no doubt attempt to add more of an attacking dimension to the Bulls but that may be a tougher challenge than he perhaps anticipates.
Strong Bulls teams of the past all followed a certain recipe for success and changing that culture will not be easy.
5. Kiwis dominate Aussies
I’ve lamented the lopsided tournament structure all season and it’s a joke that the Brumbies can have a home quarter-final when they have fewer log points than the last-placed New Zealand team (the Blues).
What’s more remarkable is that this was the first time in the tournament’s history that Australian sides lost all their games against New Zealand counterparts.
The staggering statistic reads 25-0 in favour of the Kiwi sides which should leave Wallabies coach Michael Cheika a worried man.
This makes it even more puzzling that the Australians are moaning that they have to drop a team in the competition from next year...