Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town - You have to be eternally cautious over what you predict
in sport ... but it can be deemed around 95 percent safe to say that the
Jaguares will finish top of the SA conference in Super Rugby 2019.
of the Argentineans failing, in successive Buenos Aires matches, to
knock over BOTH of the Sharks, this Saturday, and then the basement
Sunwolves a week later? Pretty negligible.
Just one victory, even
without a bonus point, from either date - and they'll rightly be tipped
at this point to clinch both - would take them to 45 points.
one of the four trailing "South African-proper" sides could still get
to that tally, at very best: the currently second-placed in the group
But just to reach 45 themselves, Swys de Bruin's
charges - not significantly more consistent than any compatriots this
season - would have to earn full-house triumphs over the Hurricanes at Ellis Park this Saturday and then again in their Pretoria
derby finale against the Bulls.
That’s a tall order, especially
given that the 'Canes began their two-match SA tour with that
ill-tempered victory over the Sharks in Durban.
Nor should we
expect the Jaguares to step off the pedal complacently in the closing
fortnight of ordinary season, as they are still fighting to retain
second position to the Crusaders overall, which would bring the
guarantee of a home semi-final should they safely negotiate their
As things stand, the Australian conference-leading
Brumbies remain a threat to nudging them down into less favourable
third; they are only two points shy of the Jaguares on 39 and have
remaining tussles against the Waratahs (away) and Reds (home).
the assumption that the Jaguares will be home and dry for the group
honours, it leaves a titanic struggle between all four SA-based sides to
determine which (and, indeed, how many) also progress to the eight-team
An increasingly likely top-four finish of Crusaders,
Jaguares, Brumbies and Hurricanes, in that order, also means that
quartet snap up the handy home quarter-final berths.
backdrop, anywhere between one and three of the South African-based
sides, most realistically, could yet make up the other four spots,
albeit all with the inconvenience of away travel for their knockout
They will all have to fare as well as they possibly can
over the next two rounds - not unanimously, though, because there are a
few neutralising, dog-eat-dog derbies - while hoping that other results
in the competition go their way too.
A personal hunch is that a
maximum of two of the four strictly SA-based outfits will accompany the
Jaguares into the finals series, keeping in mind that as many as 13 of
the 15 teams tournament-wide stay mathematically in the race, entering
the second-last round.
Only the especially distant Sunwolves (12
points) and the Reds (24) are definite goners, even if the 13th-placed
Blues (28) would need resounding away wins against both the Reds and
Hurricanes and lots of other favourable outcomes during their run-in to
If the Lions can beat the Hurricanes (though
doing it with a bonus point seems optimistic?) this weekend, they should
end the conference as runners-up to the Jaguares and be healthily
placed at the same time to make the cut ... perhaps ending on 40 points
even if just a losing bonus point were to come their way in the Loftus
But if they crash on Saturday, it fascinatingly
creates "open season", pulling the bottom-placed Stormers right back
into the mix, for instance, if they beat the Sunwolves at Newlands -
for all their injury woes, that really should happen.
are an interesting case in the two-round climax: their home form has
been seriously poor this year, whereas they have generally been more
competitive and focused on the road.
Is it a strange advantage of
sorts, then, that they negotiate the final straight with successive
fixtures in Buenos Aires (though that's not ideal for time-zone-fatigue
and other reasons) and Cape Town?
This season has been so
volatile; maybe you should examine the roster below and work out the
closing group pecking order for yourself ...
Remaining games for the SA conference sides:
Jaguares (41 points): Sharks (h), Sunwolves (h)
Lions (35 points): Hurricanes (h), Bulls (a)
Bulls (34 points): Highlanders (a), Lions (h)
Sharks (33 points): Jaguares (a), Stormers (a)
Stormers (30 points): Sunwolves (h), Sharks (h)
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