JOHANNESBURG - So it went down to the last - and 135th - game of the season.
The Lions’ 27-10 win against the Sharks in Durban in the late game on Saturday gave Johan Ackermann’s Lions top spot on the overall log and a place at home for the remainder of the competition; that is the play-offs.
The Lions finished with 65 log points, two better than the Crusaders, who lost to the Hurricanes in Wellington earlier in the day. That defeat - their first of the competition - opened the door for the Lions to take top spot; Ackermann’s men also finishing the league campaign with just the one defeat - against the Jaguares in Buenos Aires.
The Lions will now face the Sharks - again - in the quarter-finals at Ellis Park at 2.30pm on Saturday; the Durbanites finishing in eighth place overall. The second-placed Crusaders will host the seventh-placed Highlanders.
Third-seeded Stormers will host the sixth-placed Chiefs at Newlands - the team they beat in quite sensational fashion earlier in the competition - while the Australian Conference winners, the Brumbies, will host the fifth-ranked Hurricanes.
It is some indictment that the Brumbies, with a mere six wins from 15 matches for 34 points, get to host a quarter-final, when they have the least number of points of all eight quarter-finalists.
In some of the more entertaining and significant matches of the final round of action, the Sunwolves pulled off a 48-21 win against the Blues, the Western Force beat the Waratahs 40-11, while in Port Elizabeth, South Africa’s two axed teams from the competition saw the Cheetahs pip the Kings 21-20.
After the regular season, the Hurricanes - the Lions’ semi-final opponents if both win their quarter-finals clashes - top the try-scoring table with 89, followed by the Lions, with 81. They’re followed by the Crusaders (77), Stormers (64) and Highlanders (62). The team that scored the least number of tries were the Rebels, with 23.
The best defensive team were the Lions, letting in just 27 tries in their 15 matches. Next best were the Chiefs (30), and they were followed by the Hurricanes (31) and Brumbies (32).
The poorest performing team were the Rebels who won once, the Sunwolves won twice, while the Reds, Waratahs, Cheetahs and Bulls won four times.