On another fairly bleak weekend for South Africa’s Super Rugby teams, the Bulls have at least put themselves in a position to challenge for a place in the top six and a place in the “quarter-finals”.
The Sharks may have suffered a third defeat of the season on Saturday, against Jake White’s former team, the Brumbies in Canberra, but the men from Durban still have a handy lead in their race to end tops in South Africa and win the local conference. In fact, they’re still in the No1 position overall and still in with a great chance of actually finishing that way in a few weeks time.
The defeat was a small setback for White and his charges, but it could become a whole lot worse than that should they also stumble against the Crusaders this weekend. This match is now shaping up as a hugely important one for the Sharks.
In what can only be described as “a waste of time” the Sharks and Brumbies resorted to a kicking duel not seen this year in their clash in Canberra, with neither side likely to have taken many positives from the match. It is a game the Sharks may even have won had Frans Steyn sadly not had one of those days – his goal-kicking was woeful and not much else worked for him either on the night.
The good news from the weekend, though, was the performance of the Bulls, who turned around a 12-0 deficit to comfortably beat the Stormers at Loftus Versfeld. It was a typical Bulls display – they slowly got the better of their opponents upfront, earned penalties, kicked the goals and ended up as the dominant outfit.
With two out of two now on home turf since returning from a winless tour of Australasia, the Bulls are back in business, but that doesn’t mean they’re headed for the play-offs just yet. But what the win has done is keep them alive in the competition – and with just four games to play before their schedule is done, they have their fate in their own hands.
Frans Ludeke’s men have a bye this week, but then they face the Brumbies at Loftus in what is shaping up to be a potential make-or-break game for them. After that they’re up against the Lions, the Stormers and Rebels – a big ask if you know you have to win all of them to qualify. But then the Bulls have shown recently they can handle the pressure and win when they have to. If nothing else, at least there’s hope that South Africa will have more than one team in the knockout stages.
Sadly it was another weekend Cheetahs coach Naka Drotske will want to forget as quickly as possible. His team suffered their ninth defeat of their campaign, going down to the Western Force in Bloemfontein.
The Cheetahs had more than enough chances to bag a win, but poor finishing, some dubious officiating and the Force’s strong defence thwarted them for much of the contest. It was the Force’s seventh win in 10 matches and they look to be well on their way to making the playoffs.
The Lions also came unstuck, against the Highlanders in Dunedin, but they showed tremendous fighting spirit to keep their hosts scoreless in a strong second half showing, which bagged them three tries. A missed conversion by Elton Jantjies in the final act of the game was all that separated the teams after 80 minutes.
Yesterday, the Crusaders moved to fourth place overall after a convincing 57-29 victory over the Reds in Brisbane.
Reds 29, Crusaders 57; Bulls 28, Stormers 12; Cheetahs 16, Force 23; Brumbies 16, Sharks 9; Highlanders 23, Lions 22; Rebels 15, Hurricanes 25; Chiefs 32, Blues 20 FIXTURES
Friday: Hurricanes v Highlanders 9.35am
Saturday: Crusaders v Sharks 9.35am; Reds v Rebels 11.40am; Stormers v Force 5pm; Cheetahs v Brumbies 7pm
Sunday: Waratahs v Lions 8am - The Star