Positions seven, eight and nine on the overall Super Rugby log are filled by three South African teams and they will be desperate to win this coming weekend to edge closer to the Sharks who at this stage are runaway SA Conference leaders.
And, with John Plumtree’s men enjoying a bye over Easter, they will pick up an additional four log points, giving them 21 points in total. Defeats then for the Bulls (14 points, against the Brumbies), Stormers (14 points, against the Crusaders) and Cheetahs (13 points, against the Rebels) would seriously put them behind the so-called eight-ball as the competition gets ever closer to a third of the way through.
It is therefore a massive weekend for the South African sides. And we better not forget about the Southern Kings, who’re in action first up, early on Saturday morning.
Confidence won’t be very high in the Kings camp after copping a hiding by the Crusaders last weekend and a further defeat this time around, to the Hurricanes in Wellington, could see them slip into last place in the standings should the Highlanders get up and beat the Reds tomorrow morning. Currently the Kings have eight points from four matches, while the Highlanders have five, but are winless up to now. So even way down at the bottom of the standings there is much to play for from a South African perspective.
Most eyes though will be on the clashes in Canberra, Bloemfontein and Cape Town.
The injury-hit Bulls have it all to do in the Australian capital when they come up against Jake White’s Brumbies, who’ll be smarting after suffering a first defeat of the season, to the Stormers, last weekend.
But while the Brumbies have been the form team so far this season and are making Canberra Stadium a real fortress, the Bulls have shown little consistency in performance and will be kicking themselves for not picking up a win against a very ordinary Reds outfit last weekend.
If the Bulls win and other results go their way they could well move into fourth place by the end of the weekend ... a position from which they can challenge the Sharks for top spot in South Africa, especially with their overseas tour done and dusted.
In Bloemfontein later Saturday, the Cheetahs will be seeking a fourth straight win after recording wins against the Highlanders, Waratahs and Force on their overseas tour, and they’ll back themselves to pick up at least four points against the out-of-sorts Rebels, who’ve lost four in a row, including last weekend’s hammering by the Sharks.
A win for Naka Drotske’s men could see them move inside the top six.
In the late game on Saturday, the multiple champions, the Crusaders, come up against South Africa’s most consistent team of the last three years, the Stormers, at Newlands.
Both outfits are brimming with confidence after registering good wins last weekend, with the Capetonians finally finding their rhythm and grunt to down the Brumbies.
The Crusaders are minus Dan Carter and Kieran Read for the match so the Stormers have a great chance to make it three wins in a row, to go with their four-point bye, to move up the table.
The big derby in New Zealand on Saturday has the Chiefs hosting the Blues in what should be a high-scoring affair, while Australia’s big Easter weekend game has the Waratahs entertaining the Force in Sydney on Sunday.
Friday: Highlanders v Reds
Saturday: Hurricanes v Kings; Chiefs v Blues; Brumbies v Bulls; Cheetahs v Rebels; Stormers v Crusaders
Sunday: Waratahs v Force – See also Page 30