Four of the five teams in the South African Conference continue their close race to the play-offs this weekend with the struggling Stormers, now with a bye before four of their five remaining matches at home.
The focus will primarily on the top two sides in the SA Conference, the Bulls and the Sharks, who both have 28 log points. The Bulls, however, have a match in hand.
The Sharks, who aim to make it an unbeaten tour in Australasia, a rarity for SA side, and the Bulls, who played some good rugby and some poor rugby in edging the Waratahs in their aim to prove the point that they are becoming a side with all-round skills, have tough matches ahead.
The Bulls play the Crusaders at Loftus on Friday night (19:10) and will need to be more disciplined in their approach to the game. Much will depend on whether their forwards and flyhalf Handré Pollard and his two centres, Burger Odendaal and Johnny Kotze, can contain the three inside backs of the Crusaders, Richie Mo’unga, Richard Crotty and John Goodhue – all three of them All Blacks.
Let’s not discount the Bulls scrum and the early bleating about the South African sides’ scrummaging by All Blacks captain Kieran Read (who is not the Crusaders captain mind you) after they were held to an unlikely draw last week.
Sharks coach Robert du Preez has made three changes to his starting team to play the Chiefs in Waikato (Saturday 09:35) and will also be without Springbok hooker Akker van der Merwe, who has returned home after an injury off the bench in his first match back after suspension.
The Lions play the Waratahs, an average side that could be difficult if they are given leeway as the Bulls did last weekend.
In the other match SA Conference match, the Jaguares, after two successive wins at home, will be hard pressed to beat the Highlanders in Otago with the memory of the Sharks 51-17 win in their last overseas match a month ago most probably still lingering in the Argentinians’ minds.
It is of course possible, with their four-match wins last year when they beat the Melbourne Rebels, the Brumbies, Blues and Chiefs on consecutive weekends in Australasia.