VIDEO: SA teams in derby-day shootout
SUPER RUGBY SPOTLIGHT: The season’s league phases will come to a dramatic and climactic conclusion with two South African derbies.
And in both cases, this coming Saturday, they will be straight shootouts for places in the play-offs.
The three conference winners have been determined – Crusaders (New Zealand, who have already secured top spot), Jaguares (South Africa) and Brumbies (Australia).
The Jaguares (on 46 points) and the Brumbies (43) are in a race for second place on the standings.
They face the Sunwolves (in Buenos Aires) and Reds (Canberra) respectively.
The Hurricanes (49 points) have also sealed second place in the Kiwi conference and fourth place overall – the final home spot in the quarterfinals.
However, it is below that where the real scramble for places are – with the Bulls (36 points), Lions (35), Stormers (34), Rebels (34), Sharks (33), Chiefs (31), Highlanders (31) and Waratahs (30) chasing the four remaining spots.
* Article continues below …
The Highlanders and Waratahs get the theatrical final round underway and given their positions, the winner remains alive in hope (barely) and the losers are out.
It continues in the same vein when the Rebels host the Chiefs later on Friday – the Rebels in a slightly better position than the Chiefs, but not out the woods yet.
The Jaguares require at least two points from their match against the Sunwolves, but a win would seal second place and put the cherry on top of their first home play-off.
The Hurricanes can afford to rest as many players as they want against the Blues, as they can finish no higher or no lower than fourth.
The Brumbies must beat the Reds by some considerable margin and hope the Sunwolves upstage the Jaguares if the Aussie side is to overtake the South American outfit.
And then the real fun starts.
The Stormers host the Sharks at Newlands and given the other matches of the round, it is a simple scenario – the winner is in and the losers are out.
The Bulls may be safe, by a whisker, but the same applies to their opponents the Lions in their encounter at Loftus Versfeld straight afterwards.
The Bulls can finish no lower than eighth, given other team will knock each other out.
However, for the Lions it is: Win and you are in, lose and you are out!
Stormers stand-in captain Steven Kitshoff said they are looking forward with great excitement to their shootout with the Sharks.
“It makes it very interesting,” the Springbok prop said.
“The players get excited about it and it is always enjoyable to have more at stake in such big games.”
The Stormers will be sweating over the fitness of scrumhalf Herschel Jantjies, who injured his clavicle (collar bone) in the win over the Sunwolves this past weekend.
Coach Robbie Fleck said it is “not looking good”, while forward Johan du Toit is also struggling with a rib injury.
On the flipside, Siyabonga Ntubeni, Damian de Allende and Seabelo Senatla will be back for Saturday’s game against the Sharks.
There is an outside chance John Schickerling and Pieter-Steph du Toit could also be available – both subject to scans early in the week.
The Stormers will still be without Springboks Eben Etzebeth (hand), Siyamthanda Kolisi (knee), Sikhumbuzo Notshe [ankle] and Damian Willemse [knee].
“It has been unfortunate over the last couple of weeks with injuries,” Fleck said.
“Every week we deal with it. Whatever comes across our desk tomorrow, we will make plans and put a team forward to win next week.
“We can do nothing about the injury situation,” he said, adding they will back the guys they have available.
“This is the group that has to take us through to the quarterfinals, this is the group that have to beat the Sharks.”
By Jan de Koning