The Stormers and Sharks need their northern counterparts to fire if South Africa are to secure two semi-final spots.
The Bulls, Cheetahs and Lions are no longer in play-off contention, but the next three weeks will be crucial from a South African view point. The Stormers announced themselves as serious title contenders with a win over the Hurricanes, while the Sharks are sitting at second on the Super 14 log. Four games remain, and while neither Dick Muir nor Rassie Erasmus will be counting on the form of the other South African franchises, they would be immensely grateful for any favours.
The Crusaders are six points clear of the Sharks, but only eight points separate positions two and nine. Four points separate positions four and nine. It’s clear the next three weeks are going to be a vital.
The Lions still have to play the Brumbies, Hurricanes and Chiefs before hosting the Stormers at Ellis Park. The Bulls play the Waratahs and Brumbies after their bye, and finish with a game against the Cheetahs. The central franchise host the Canes and Highlanders, followed by two weeks of local action against the Sharks and Bulls.
Given the impact another loss could have on table standings, these three South African teams should find new motivation for the back end of their respective campaigns. The Springboks won the World Cup five months after the Sharks and Bulls contested the Super 14 final. Having two teams in the play-offs is a healthy situation for South African rugby.
On current form, nobody will be expecting the Lions to win all four of their remaining games. But a win over any one of the Brumbies, Canes or Chiefs teams could be so crucial to the final outcome.
The Bulls played well at Loftus last week, and will say they are playing for pride. Put national pride on the pedestal boys, and do your coastal cousins a favour by downing the two Aussie contenders. Naka Drotske’s men can also help by clouting the Canes in Kimberley.
Of course, it could go terribly wrong with these three teams losing to Australasian opposition and beating the two South African sides. The Stormers’ match up with the Lions will be a big one, and Cheetahs-Sharks clashes are always bruising encounters.
Whichever way you look at it, the three struggling local teams will influence the final four standings.
By Jon Cardinelli