SA Super Rugby playoff picture: Sharks alive, Stormers buried
Cape Town - After Week 17 of Super Rugby, the playoff picture for 2018 has become a lot clearer.
It was not a memorable week for the South African sides with the Bulls going down to the Sunwolves in Singapore and the Stormers toothless against the Jaguares in Argentina.
The only winners from a South African perspective were the Sharks, who kept their playoff hopes alive with a come-from-behind win against the Lions in Durban.
READ: 5 talking points - Super Rugby Week 17
Here, we look at where each team in the South African Conference finds itself heading into the business end of competition.
Some sides have the luxury of two matches left, while the Lions and Stormers have just one each.
1st in SA Conference, 2nd overall
41 points from 15 matches
Remaining fixture: Bulls (h)
The Lions are not the dominant force they were in 2016 and 2017, and their record of 8 wins and 7 defeats suggests as much. Still, they have been dominating the SA Conference throughout 2018, though that could change this weekend. The Lions have a bye while the Jaguares take on the Bulls in Pretoria. The Argentines will go to the top of the Conference with a win this weekend, meaning that the Lions no longer have their fate in their own hands. Victory against the Bulls on the final day of group fixtures will be an absolute must for Swys de Bruin's men, but even that might not be enough.
2nd in SA Conference, 7th overall
38 points from 14 matches
Remaining fixtures: Bulls (a), Sharks (a)
The surprise package of the Conference this year, the Jaguares are two wins away from finishing ahead of the Lions and securing a home quarter-final. They do have two tricky fixtures left, though, and they could come up against a Sharks side who need a win to qualify in their final fixture. Two losses, meanwhile, could still see the South Americans miss the playoffs altogether. They lost both of their two matches in South Africa earlier in the season, but that was well before they started to find their winning touch.
3rd in SA Conference, 9th overall
32 points from 14 matches
Remaining fixtures: Stormers (a), Jaguares (h)
Their win over the Lions this past weekend has kept them alive, but there is still an awful lot to do for the Sharks. They certainly have the ability, but their inconsistency this season has let them down. At this stage, it seems like the Sharks are fighting the Rebels for 8th position on the overall log and the final playoff berth. The Rebels are currently 3 points ahead of the Sharks with away fixtures against the Reds and Highlanders to come. Ultimately, the Sharks can win both of their remaining matches and still not qualify for the playoffs.
4th in SA Conference, 11th overall
25 points from 14 matches
Remaining fixtures: Jaguares (h), Lions (a)
The Bulls are mathematically still alive, but it is almost impossible to see them making the playoffs. Having blown a golden opportunity against the Sunwolves this past weekend, John Mitchell's men need to secure a maximum of 10 points in their final 2 matches to stand any chance. Even then, it is unlikely to be enough. That would see them finish on 35 log points, which the Rebels are on already. The Bulls would need the Melbourne side to lose their final two matches heavily while they would also need the Sharks and Brumbies to do them a favour. There are just too many things that need to go the Bulls' way. There have been encouraging signs this season, but this team remains far from playoff worthy.
5th in SA Conference, 12th overall
25 points from 15 matches
Remaining fixtures: Sharks (h)
The Stormers are the only team in the South African Conference who cannot mathematically make the playoffs. They have one match left, against the Sharks at home this weekend, and that will bring the curtain down on a woefully disappointing campaign for Robbie Fleck's men. The Stormers have had their financial troubles well-documented this season, but few would have seen them being this poor in 2018. Injuries have played their part, but they do not explain one of South Africa's proudest franchises rooted to the bottom of the Conference and out of knockout contention.