The two South African derby matches for Round 16 finished with the underdogs taking victory, which now means that only one side from the Republic will reach the next stage of the season.
While the Sharks defeat at home narrowed their lead at the top of the table, the fact that fellow contenders the Bulls also lost ensured that Jake White’s men have achieved two goals in one weekend.
Meanwhile the Stormers continued their charge as one of the late season form teams in Super Rugby.
Sharks stumble comes with rewards
It isn’t exactly fair to say the wheels are coming off the Sharks machine, they remain top of the table and still have a two competition point buffer over the second placed Waratahs.
Not only that, but their 45 points and ten wins, based on previous seasons, all but guarantees them qualification for the Super Rugby Finals Series, while the Bulls loss ensures that the men from Durban will claim the South African Conference.
However despite their brilliant tour to the Antipodes, they have lost back-to-back matches at home.
One of seven teams with just two fixtures remaining, the Sharks resume Super Rugby at the end of June with trips to Bloemfontein and Cape Town, and could potentially finish outside of the top two.
Bulls face mission impossible
Many times in the past the three-time championship winning Bulls have finished their regular season with some remarkable results to sneak into the top six, but their 32-21 loss to the Lions has all but ruined their slim chances.
With just two matches remaining, the Bulls would need to defeat the Stormers in Cape Town and the Rebels in Pretoria with a perfect ten competition points, and hope that the teams above them embark on spectacular losing runs.
The so called fading Lions had returned home from overseas and had been picked to struggle against a Bulls side chasing their fourth straight win.
However with a draw and four straight losses in the middle of the season, the Bulls needed to be successful in Johannesburg but didn’t count on the injury ravaged hosts putting in one of their best performances of the season.
Stormers continue to climb
Just one win in their first seven matches had the Stormers billed as the disappointment of the season, but their (ahem) ‘storming’ finish to the regular season will be producing mixed emotions to the Cape Town faithful.
Five wins in their last seven games, including three straight, have pushed the side into eleventh position after the dreaded wooden spoon was on the cards early in the campaign.
However it is the manner of how they have turned their season around that has impressed, 18 tries in their last seven fixtures – collecting two four-try bonus points in the process – has come from an increased appetite for ball in hand rugby.
The Bulls and Sharks travel to Newlands to round out the Stormers season, and two-time South African Conference champions will back themselves to continue to cause local damage.
Lions remind us of that early promise
The Lions won their fifth match of the season when defeating the Bulls over the weekend, a victory that all but ended the hopes of the three-time champions of reaching the top six at the end of the regular campaign.
Only once since 2002 have the Lions won five matches, and if they can win their final two games – both in Johannesburg – they will equal the record set by the 2000 and 2001 vintages (in the guise of the Cats).
At one point it seemed as if the Lions were going to be a fairy tale team but seven straight losses put an end to that goal.
With the Rebels and Cheetahs to come, expect the Lions to put some smiles on the faces of those who wave their support from the stands of Ellis Park.
Jake White said that Heyneke Meyer’s Springboks training camp was a disruption and a big factor behind their two-point loss to the Stormers before the June break.
While such comments have attracted a mixed reception, with some irony the South Africans will have a slight advantage come The Rugby Championship.
With the Australian and New Zealand Conferences each still boasting at least three franchises in Super Rugby Finals Series calculations, one thing is for certain.
Meyer will have access to his players well before his All Blacks and Wallabies counterparts, and history has proven that such extra time can be invaluable as Super Rugby gives way to arguably the toughest rugby competition on the planet.