Shambling Sharks, lame Lions and struggling Stormers bungle play-off chances

Shambling Sharks, lame Lions and struggling Stormers bungle play-off chances

The Sharks, in a match that must rate among their poorest this season, lost 34-7 to the physical Jaguares in Buenos Aires on Saturday night and must beat the Stormers at Newlands on Saturday to make the quarter-final playoffs the following week.

The Sharks backline was obviously rattled by the Jaguares rush-defence. Their handling and at times defence suffered because of this. The Sharks also didn’t get the needed control up front where the home side was reasonably contained but not bettered.

With the quality of possession not of the best, it also affected the backs’ attacking ability.

And with a shrug the hiding can possibly dismissed as an improvement on the 51-17 first-round hiding at Kings Park.

♦ The Lions 37-17 loss to the Hurricanes on Saturday is of little solace to the Sharks. The KwaZulu-Natal side remain two log points behind the Lions, who in turn are one point behind the Bulls who they play at Loftus on Saturday.

These two matches will not necessarily decide the quarterfinalists. The Stormers, despite a below-par performance against a weakened Sunwolves side, at least kept in contention with their win but spurned a bonus point that could come back to hurt them.

The abbreviated log below shows how close the teams from fifth to 11th place are to one another, with the home quarterfinal berths already decided. The three winners of their Conferences (Crusaders, Jaguares, Brumbies) and Hurricanes (‘Wildcard” with the most log points) will have a distinct advantage with much travelling required by their opponents.

In addition to the four SA sides, the Rebels, Chiefs and Highlanders are the other three sides on the very congested log that still have a chance to reach the play-offs. The present ‘Wildcards’ in positions 5-8 on the log are marked WC.

Lions vs Hurricanes
On Saturday, the Lions turned around at 10-all against the Hurricanes, but in the second half the New Zealanders, second on the combined standings but with only a fourth place draw because of the ridiculous Sanzaar Super Rugby points structure, outplayed them.

The Hurricanes were better at the breakdown where Ardie Savea and Dan Coles were outstanding. This left the Sharks little breakdown possession to attack with.

The visitors were also better with their handling and discipline and their many line-breaking options were boosted by some average Lions tackling.

Swys de Bruin’s outfit will have to be much better than that if they hope to beat the Bulls next weekend and lead the SA teams on the log.

Stormers vs Sunwolves
The Stormers, without a number of stars, were awful in build-up and execution, but did enough against a Sunwolves side that was also much-changed from their usual squad.  The score was 31-18 to the Stormers, but the win did not bring the Cape side the much-needed bonus point that could ultimately cost them a top-eight-finish and a playoff berth.

The Stormers play the Sharks at Newlands on Saturday and a win could salvage their topsy-turvy and rather poor season, considering their personnel. Based on Saturday’s performance by the Sharks, this could be a close game of average quality if recent outings by the two sides are considered.

The current abbreviated combined log (matches, points with remaining fixture) –

Crusaders (Q)  16  58  (fixtures concluded)
Jaguares (Q)  15  46   (vs Sunwolves at home)
Brumbies (Q)  15  43  (vs Reds at home)
Hurricanes (WC)  15  49 (vs Blues at home)
Bulls (WC)  15  36  (vs Lions at home)
Lions (WC)  15  35 (vs Bulls away)
Stormers (WC) 15  34  (vs Sharks (at home)
Rebels  (WC) 15  34 (vs Chiefs at home)
Sharks  15  33 (vs Stormers away)
Chiefs  15  31  (vs Rebels away)
Highlanders  15  31 (vs Waratahs at home)
Waratahs  15  30  (vs Highlanders away)
Blues  15  29  (vs Hurricanes away)
Reds  15  28 (vs Brumbies away)
Sunwolves  15  12 (vs Jaguares away)