Race on for S15 playoffs

Sport24 columnist Gary Boshoff (File)
Sport24 columnist Gary Boshoff (File)
This coming weekend’s fixtures showcase three interesting clashes in the Vodacom Super Rugby competition.

In the Brumbies v Waratahs match, Jake White has the opportunity to further assert the Brumbies’ dominance in the Australian Conference and strengthen his team’s grasp on the sought-after playoff spot. While the Waratahs have it all to play for after their encouraging performance against the Crusaders this past weekend, one has to concede that the Crusaders were merely coasting along and did just enough to take the points. 

In the Sharks v Highlanders game, the Sharks have the opportunity to return to winning ways against a confident Highlanders side. This is a must-win match for the Sharks who will be boosted by the return of star players Beast Mtawarira and Ryan Kankowski. If the Sharks wish to have any say in the playoffs their revival will have to start on Saturday. The Highlanders on the other hand need to keep on winning, considering the dominance of the Chiefs and the chasing Crusaders in the New Zealand Conference. 

The outcome of these two matches hold significant consequences for the fortunes of all four teams involved - so prepare yourself for more fearsome contests!

The third match will see the Crusaders meet the Reds in Christchurch. While the Reds held on to beat the Blues last week, I expect the Crusaders forwards and the boot of Tom Taylor to hold sway in favour of the resurging former Super Rugby champions. I anticipate that the Chiefs and the Crusaders will be in the playoffs; this will leave only two places for the Reds, Bulls, Highlanders, Waratahs and Sharks to fight over - an interesting tussle indeed!

Will we see one, two or even three South African franchises in the playoffs? I believe this picture will be much clearer when the teams break for the three-week Test window on June 2.

While the Sharks might have lost against a very organised Chiefs side last week, it was not due to a lack of application or penetration, but primarily due to a few basic errors in a very close contest. The fact that the one point difference remained until the very last minute against the top team in the competition, is testimony to the Sharks’ improving game. The eminent return of Beast and Kankowski will lift the spirits in the team further and I expect the sea predators to hit their straps on Saturday. If you ask coach John Plumtree, he would certainly prefer a Sharks team hitting top form in the second half of the competition than in the first half, as so often has been the case with the Sharks in the past. Judging by last week’s performance against the Chiefs, the Sharks seemed to be poised for a great home run.

Things don't look as good for the Bulls though as their “new squad” will be tested in three crucial overseas matches over the next four weeks, namely, against the Waratahs, Highlanders and Chiefs. The odds of winning these matches are definitely stacked against the Pretoria side. If they do lose, it will give their playoff chances a massive knock. In fact, expect to see the Crusaders, Sharks and maybe even the Highlanders and Waratahs challenge (or even leapfrog) the Bulls on the log. If they (the Bulls) want to stay in serious contention they will have to win at least two of their overseas fixtures to remain close to that sixth or fifth spot on the log. Testing times indeed for captain Pierre Spies and company.

The Stormers are flying high and come June 2 could find themselves well clear on the South African Conference log. Coach Allister Coetzee knows this and will not allow his players to slack in the final straight. The Stormers need that second shot at a home semi-final as well as to have that crucial week off when the third to sixth placed teams are engaged in the first round playoff games. If the Stormers manage to finish top of the log or even second, the Cape side will have their best shot at the title ever. Cool heads... that’s what’s required!

Finally, it doesn’t look as if there will be any respite at the bottom of the log for the Blues and Lions respectively. Both teams are in a dark hole, lacking confidence and self-belief. Escaping from this will require a miraculous turnaround, something that looks increasingly improbable for this season. The only incentive that remains for these two teams is to avoid the wooden spoon.

Gary Boshoff is a former SARU player and current Afrikaans rugby commentator on SuperSport.

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