Soft Bulls helping Sharks’ KO cause

    2017-05-09 20:31

    Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer

    Cape Town – The failure of the Bulls to look remotely like a Super Rugby title-chasing factor this season is making it increasingly likely that the Sharks will comfortably eclipse them to third South African qualifying berth in this year’s quarter-finals.

    The Lions (especially impressive again in Africa Conference 2) and Stormers (clear leaders in Africa 1 despite four recent reverses on the trot) still seem hugely favoured to top their pools after ordinary season and bank home quarter-finals each.

    But there is also a remaining away knockout fixture in the last eight up for grabs from the “South African” collective of eight sides, if you add in the presence among them of the Argentinean-based Jaguares and Japanese Sunwolves.

    For the second season in succession, and based on the table situation after round 11, the odds strongly favour the Sharks being that third SA booking into the knockout phase, alongside the better-seeded Lions and Stormers – and again with the likelihood of having to travel overseas from KZN once more for their quarter-final, assuming they do end as runners-up in Africa 2.

    Few Sharks fans need reminding of the outcome of that fixture in 2016: they ran into an almost freakish windstorm in Wellington and were blitzed 41-0 by the aptly-named Hurricanes, rather more used to such conditions and the fresher side even before the start.

    Still, they would have been relieved enough just to have made it that far, given how close compatriots the Bulls, from the other local conference, came to pipping them to the third qualifying spot: the Loftus-based side (42) ended one agonising log point short of the Sharks (43).

    That was far more of a close shave than the Sharks got from within their own conference where the Jaguares, on competition debut last year, ended as many as 21 points behind them in third.

    This season, the tables appear to have turned firmly emphatically in the race to put heat on the Sharks for the “extra” knockout berth: in 2017 it is the Bulls showing little lustre and the much-improved South American unit a bigger threat.

    It is very hard to envisage the Bulls (14 points from nine games) doing enough over the remaining six rounds for them to haul in the Sharks (32 from 10), never mind even conference rivals the Stormers (26 from 10) … so dare we pronounce that the once-mighty outfit from Pretoria are KO write-offs already?

    Maybe the only remaining danger to the Sharks’ knockout-stage aspirations, then, are Agustin Creevy’s Jaguares.

    The Argentineans, though, will have it all to do from here if they are to vault the Kings Park-housed team.

    As things stand, with five matches left each, the Sharks boast an eight-point advantage, so the Jaguares have got to basically make up two standard victories over them and then also a bonus point (bearing in mind that they also lag behind on points differential, by 32) in the remaining rounds to steal a quarter-final position.

    There is a good chance that the gap between the two sides may stay more or less unaltered after round 12 this weekend: I would expect the Jaguares to beat the Force in Buenos Aires, while the Sharks should similarly see off the Kings in Port Elizabeth.

    Make no mistake, the Kings are suddenly fighting tooth and nail in performance terms to preserve their Super Rugby status, even if a great many critics already believe they are effectively six feet under.

    There is talk of a welcome, significant crowd being drawn to the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium for Saturday’s derby (17:15), although the Sharks still just seem to carry too many big guns for the plucky Eastern Cape crew.

    So it is possible that the Jaguares may then only have four rounds left at their disposal for the dramatic turnaround that potentially unseats Robert du Preez’s charges from the quarters and sees them sneak in instead.

    Both teams, under current circumstances, have three home and two away fixtures yet to play, and each must still contemplate some form of international travel: the Sharks have a short-lived trek to Singapore to play the Sunwolves, whereas the Jaguares face a two-match trip to Australia right at the business end.

    My expectation at this point, and I quite probably won’t be alone on this, is an exact replica of the 2016 situation: home quarter-finals for the Lions and Stormers, away one for the Sharks.

    Here are the full remaining itineraries of the Sharks and Jaguares:

    Sharks (played 10, 32 points): Kings (a), Sunwolves (a), Stormers (h), Bulls (h), Lions (h)

    Jaguares (played 10, 24 points): Force (h), Brumbies (h), Kings (h), Waratahs (a), Rebels (a)

    *Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing


    What To Read Next

    Read News24’s Comments Policy

    Live Video Streaming
    Video Highlights
    Sport Talk


    04 August 2018
    28 July 2018
    21 July 2018
    20 July 2018
    14 July 2018
    13 July 2018
    07 July 2018
    06 July 2018
    30 June 2018
    29 June 2018
    03 June 2018
    02 June 2018
    01 June 2018
    26 May 2018
    25 May 2018
    19 May 2018
    18 May 2018
    12 May 2018
    11 May 2018
    05 May 2018
    04 May 2018
    28 April 2018
    27 April 2018
    22 April 2018
    21 April 2018
    20 April 2018
    14 April 2018
    13 April 2018
    07 April 2018
    06 April 2018
    01 April 2018
    31 March 2018
    30 March 2018
    24 March 2018
    23 March 2018
    18 March 2018
    17 March 2018
    16 March 2018
    10 March 2018
    09 March 2018
    03 March 2018
    02 March 2018
    24 February 2018
    23 February 2018
    17 February 2018


    Rank Team P W Pts
    • Lions (Q)
    • Jaguares (wc)
    • Sharks (wc)
    • Stormers
    • Bulls

    Opinion Poll

    Who will win the 2018 Rugby Championships?

    Can you name the top Super Rugby tryscorers of all-time?

    There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.