The Bulls’ bonus-point win over the Sharks in round nine of Super Rugby has changed the complexion of the South African conference standings, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
The Bulls were the big winners in more ways than one on Saturday as they claimed an impressive 40-10 win over the Sharks, which enabled them to jump from fourth to second place in the local standings.
Beyond this move up the table – they are also now eighth in the overall rankings – the fact remains that the Bulls also have a game in hand compared to the other teams in the SA group.
Saturday’s comprehensive win over the Sharks, which was preceded by a good victory over the Stormers, has suddenly seen the Bulls emerge as the likely leading challengers to the Lions’ supremacy.
While enjoying a bye this past weekend, the Lions would have been quite happy to see the Bulls claim an unexpected win at Kings Park that ensures the Johannesburg-based side remains 11 points clear at the top of the South African conference.
Although it looks unlikely that the Lions will be caught from here, the Bulls have shown enough signs to suggest they could shake things up in the weeks to come.
Three out of the Bulls’ next four matches will be played at their Loftus fortress, while the Lions are now heading off on a challenging four-week overseas tour to Australasia, which will include clashes against the Hurricanes and Highlanders.
It’s this next four-week period that looks set to be decisive in terms of how the South African conference shapes up heading into the second half of the competition.
The Sharks will be gutted by the manner in which they succumbed to defeat on their home ground on Saturday, and this weekend’s encounter against the Stormers has now become particularly crucial to the remainder of their campaign.
Results in round nine also saw a significant shift taking place in the Australian conference, with the Waratahs leapfrogging the Rebels to claim top spot after clinching a good win over the Reds. For the Rebels, it was a missed opportunity as they slipped to a disappointing defeat against the Jaguares.
Meanwhile, the Hurricanes reaffirmed their status as the leading New Zealand side as they clinched an important 25-13 victory over the Chiefs to move ahead of the Crusaders, who had a bye. The Canes are also now two log points ahead of the Lions at the summit of the overall standings.
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