That’s it folks. The Super Rugby SA Conference Week 19 Games are done and that concludes the regular season of the tournament. As the dust settles, we take a look at the final games before the playoffs commence next week and look forward to the SA Conference teams who’re still in the running of the competition.
Super Rugby SA Conference Week 19 Wrap – Log Leaders
The Emirates Lions managed to top the South African Conference Log after all, controversially finishing second in the overall conference. They played the Vodacom Bulls in a ‘Cross-Jukskei’ derby to finish their campaign on fourty-six points. The Bulls, on the other hand, started their campaign well on the 23rd of February by beating the Pulse Energy Highlanders in Pretoria in the 2nd week of the competition. They didn’t keep that form, managing only six wins from their sixteen regular season games.
The last game for the Bulls was played at a frenetic pace that saw them get two quick tries in the first fifteen minutes. The first was a break by stand-in flyhalf, Manie Libbok. He managed to run through and beat Elton Jantjes as the final defender, scoring under the posts from about sixty meters out. The second came from a turnover close to the Lions’ line and was quickly handed to Jesse Kriel to finish close to the corner. But, that was it for the Bulls. They never crossed the line again, although they had a decent amount of possession and territory.
Lions Come Back from Behind to Score Six Tries
The Lions absorbed the early pressure well, they regrouped and started stringing together phases. Their first reply came in the 17th minute of the game, with Ruan Combrink running the ball easily into the corner. Ross Cronje took over early from Nic Groom who left the field with a wrist injury. He used some tactical kicking to clear the Bulls back into their own half and as they started dominating the possession as well, the Bulls allowed gaps to form in their defense. The Bulls used a similar rush defense as they employed against the Jaguares a week before, but this time the Lions were up to it. As their backline was already on the edge of the offside line, some mock-clearing from the breakdown saw the Bulls infringe the line and get penalized.
The frantic pace continued throughout the game, but as handling errors crept in, there were a lot more resets. The Bulls showed guts by trying to run the ball from anywhere, even from behind their own try-line. This allowed the Lions to camp out deep in the Bulls half and capitalize regularly. There was a bit of ‘tit-for-tat’ play, where the Lions decided if the Bulls run from deep, they would run from deep. If the Bulls kicked flat, they would kick flat. The 2nd half however saw the Lions taking the game away from the Bulls. First with scrum pressure resulting in a penalty try, then some excellent football skills seeing Combrink running in for his second of the night.
The Emirates Lions finished top of the South African Conference for the third year running!
Thank you to the 31 106 supporters who came out to Emirates Airline Park today! See you next week!#LetsUnite #LIOvBUL pic.twitter.com/Aqynrql6b1
— Emirates Lions (@LionsRugbyCo) July 14, 2018
Pressure on Defense Handled Well by the Lions
Franco Mostert proved he is the defensive stalwart that the Lions had come to expect. He once again made the most tackles on the night for the Lions, only beaten by the Bulls’ Warrick Galant and RG Snyman. Galant started at center this week after Johnny Kotze was withdrawn late on Saturday. This brought Divan Rossouw in to start at fullback.
The Lions will now face the Jaguares at home next week, after finishing second on the overall competition log.
Kick-off is 15:05 CAT on the 21st of July.
Sharks Host a Weakened Jaguares
The Jaguares traveled from the Highveld to the coast to take on the Cell-C Sharks with little hope of topping the Super Rugby SA Conference. They selected a weaker side than usual for the game, showing that didn’t really have to win to finish in 7th place overall. The Rebels losing to the Highlanders early on Saturday showed they were correct in their estimates. If the Lions lost against the Bulls, they’d end in 3rd place on the Log and the Jaguares would have had to travel to Australia to face the Waratahs. This probably influenced their decision to rest some key players in what was for them considered a dead-rubber match.
This was not the case for the Sharks, who after also witnessing the Rebels’ close defeat, knew they had to win to remain in the competition. However, a somber cloud hung over Durban on Saturday night. In the rainy conditions with a sparse crowd, it was clear that everyone knew what a victory meant. They’d head over to face the top placed Crusaders in Christchurch. Something every team dreads, especially considering the Crusaders had only lost two matches this season.
Sharks Remain in Playoff Mode
The Sharks kept their conservative game plan that had seen them lose to the DHL Stormers a week before. They opted for posts twice after the Jaguares were penalized at scrum time. They lost their eighth-man, Dan Du Preez, shortly after for a ‘grass-cutter‘ tackle, but only conceded three points during the ten minute sanction. The game was littered with handling errors from both sides. Eventually a wonderful break through the maul from Man of the Match, Akker van der Merwe, saw the Sharks get their first try of the night. They scored another in the second half after some passes stuck in the hands and stand-in winger, Jacobus van Wyk, ran in the try.
— The Sharks (@TheSharksZA) July 15, 2018
The Jaguares scored one of their own late in the 2nd half when a break down the sideline was kicked back into midfield where support runners were expecting the ball. Sebastian Cencelliere collected and crossed to give the Jaguares their only try of the night.
The Jaguares may be relieved that they won’t have to travel to Australia for their Quarter Final match. While the Sharks know exactly how massive their coming task is. One spectator at the game embodied the mood exactly. He sat with two drinks in hand, all by himself in the pouring rain, looking sternly at the spectacle in front of him. Knowing that in all likelihood this would be the last victory for his side this Super Rugby season.
Sharks kick-off in NZ is 09:35 CAT on the 21st of July.
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