at the Union Buildings in Pretoria
It’s looking increasingly likely the Sharks will be the only South African team who’ll pick up a win overseas in this year’s Super Rugby competition ... and thus also making them the only local side to feature in the play-offs later this year.
The Bulls’ third straight defeat on tour – to the Waratahs on Saturday – means no-one from these shores have won abroad this season.
The Stormers and Cheetahs returned home winless, with Frans Ludeke’s men having one last chance – against the Western Force this weekend – to stop the rot.
But, unlike seasons past where a victory in Perth was almost a given, the Force are no longer the whipping boys of the competition and should provide stern opposition for the men from Pretoria.
The Force may have come unstuck in Melbourne at the weekend, against the Rebels, but before that they’d won four in a row.
And to say the Bulls are struggling on tour is an understatement. If Ludeke’s men are to finish inside the top six at the end of the competition it looks as if they’re going to have to do the business at Loftus Versfeld and win just about all their remaining games in South Africa.
But if the Bulls are struggling to keep in touch with the pace-setters, the Sharks are continuing on their merry ways.
Sure, they were far from convincing in downing the Cheetahs in Durban, but they were never really threatened and, in the end, coasted home.
With seven wins from eight matches – and still unbeaten on home turf – the Sharks are runaway leaders of the local conference and still tops overall.
South Africa’s next best performing team are the Bulls, but they’ve managed just three wins, while the Lions have four victories, the Stormers two and the Cheetahs one.
It is also alarming that the Sharks are the only local side with a positive points difference (+104); with the rest all in the negative – Bulls (-12), Lions (-40), Stormers (-51) and Cheetahs (-101).
Of course Jake White’s men still have to tour, but history tells us they’re an outfit who generally enjoy going overseas, and they’ve performed well before, and on top of that they’re a side with not too many weaknesses and will be brimming with confidence. Even two wins out of four would just about secure their place in the play-offs.
The other team who still have to get on the plane to the Antipodes are the Lions and, after suffering a fifth defeat to the Stormers on Saturday, could well join the Cheetahs and Stormers by not winning abroad this season. Johan Ackermann’s men have lost the mojo they had in the early rounds of competition and are now looking more and more like the Lions teams of old. They’re the only side who’ve not picked up a bonus point and are finding it increasingly difficult to put points on the board. They have a bye this weekend but by the time they return from Australasia they could well be in the bottom two places of the points table.
Stormers fans will be happier today after their side won at Newlands, for just the second time this year, but with eight games still to play, Allister Coetzee’s men will have to produce something miraculous if they’re to finish inside the top 10.
Another interesting weekend awaits, but South African rugby fans should start preparing themselves for a season best forgotten ... that is, unless, you’re a Sharks fan.
Stormers 18, Lions 3; Sharks 19, Cheetahs 8; Waratahs 19, Bulls 12; Chiefs 17, Crusaders 18; Rebels 22, Force 16; Hurricanes 39, Blues 20
Friday: Blues v Waratahs; Brumbies v Chiefs; Sharks v Highlanders
Saturday: Hurricanes v Reds; Force v Bulls; Cheetahs v Stormers - The Star