Jake White leaves the door open for top spot

2014-06-08 15:00

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In a case of the biter bit, the Sharks’ miserable 19-21 loss to the Stormers will weigh heavily on the mind of coach Jake White as he waits for Super Rugby to recommence after the June tests.

Instead of claiming a clear advantage in the race to top the log, the defeat means the Sharks have opened the door to the chasers and will now have to rely on other results to go their way to grab crucial home ground advantage in the play-offs.

And irony of ironies, White will have to depend on the Brumbies, the team from which he had an acrimonious departure and with whom he is involved in an ongoing legal spat, to do him a favour by beating the Waratahs.

Coached by White’s “bête noire”, Michael Cheika, the Waratahs are two points shy of the Sharks on the log but have a match in hand. This means that even if the Sharks were to win their last two matches against the Cheetahs and the Stormers, both away, when the tournament resumes in July, the men from New South Wales can claim top spot by winning their remaining three matches.

But the first of those is against the Brumbies in Sydney on June 28, a match in which there will also be no love lost, and White will be hoping his former charges can stop the in-form Waratahs and open the way for the Sharks to challenge for top spot.

Finishing first guarantees a home semifinal and the chance to secure the same advantage for the final, but by failing so dismally against an understrength Stormers, the Sharks also let the Crusaders have a sniff at the top two placings.

The Sharks cannot be prevented from finishing top of the South African conference, but if they end up third on the overall log they’ll be condemned to an additional match against the bottom team of the three wild card qualifiers. And if successful, they will once again be confronted by the travel bogey they have not previously been able to overcome in the semifinals.

In 2012, the Sharks made a spirited late bid to get into the play-offs. But while they were able to beat the Reds in Brisbane, then flew back to South Africa to beat the Stormers in Cape Town in the semis, they simply had nothing left when they returned to New Zealand and lost 37-7 to the Chiefs in the final.

It could turn out that the feisty Cheika, whom White has been fond of baiting, may end up having the last laugh.

Although there are many permutations, given how the results go, the effect of bonus points and because some of the teams in the running will

play each other and be eliminated, the accompanying graphic gives an indication of what awaits the leading contenders when they return to competition.

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