The South African Conference resumes this weekend in Round 18, after watching the Australian and New Zealand franchises in action which ensured that there is likely to be only one team from the Republic in the finals.

The Sharks, long guaranteed the South African Conference, will finish in the top three while two more victories will ensure that Jake White’s team finish in the top two position and lock up a home Semi Final.

The Bulls still have an outside chance of reaching the Finals Series, but their hopes were dealt a blow with a 32-21 loss to the Lions before the June break.

The Stormers have become one of the premier spoilers in Super Rugby so far, while the Lions and Cheetahs have likely already begun planning for the Currie Cup and 2015 season.


The final facts…

- The Sharks have claimed South Africa but could still finish in third spot despite leading Super Rugby for most of the season. Both of their remaining regular season matches are away from home and as the Stormers showed in Round 16, there are no easy wins in this competition.

- The Cheetahs can move off the bottom of the table with a win over the Sharks in Bloemfontein. If the men from Free State can be victorious in their final two matches, they will finish the season with five wins; their second best ever ledger which would salvage a disappointing year after making the Finals in 2013.

- The Stormers have won three straight games among five of seven streak; a remarkable turnaround by a team that lost six of their first seven. If they defeat the Bulls this weekend and the Sharks the next, they will finish second in the conference and potentially eighth overall, giving fans much hope for next year when you consider the horrendous luck they have have with injuries this year.

- One more win for the Lions will see them take six victories for the season; their second-best haul since 2001 when the Cats (their former guise) reached the top six. Not a bad platform to build upon with their Super Rugby future guaranteed.


Championship contender: South Africa's main title hope is the Sharks, who have reached this lofty position courtesy of a brilliant start to their campaign at home and the best touring result of any Super Rugby team in 2014. However the team will want to right the ship before the finals commence, dropping their last two games at home, breaking an eight match winning streak at Growthpoint KINGS PARK.

Coming up: There are four South African derbies still to come so while the men from Durban may be the only remaining title hope, there is plenty of internal competition to come. Nothing is for certain as White's men have been defeated twice in their last four local matches. The Lions have two remaining games at home which represents an ample chance to move up the table, while this weekend, the Stormers and Cheetahs host higher-ranked teams in the Bulls and Sharks respectively. 

Outside chances: While the table appears bleak reading for South African rugby fans, the Bulls remain a slim chance to reach the Finals Series. Two bonus point wins to close the season (against the Stormers and Rebels) would give them 43 points; a total that may be enough to scrape in depending on results in Australia and New Zealand. Meanwhile, the Stormers and Cheetahs could seriously de-rail the Sharks' momentum, while Springboks coach Heyneke Meyer will be watching nervously, hoping for a clean bill of health among some bruising final fortnight derbies.

Turnaround of the year: The turnaround has come in stages for some teams. Early in the campaign it looked as if the Lions were going to be the darlings of South Africa with four wins from their first six, while the Stormers' recent run has the Cape Town faithful smiling again. But the Sharks, who missed the Super Rugby Finals Series in 2013, will be hoping to go one step further, having reached four deciders so far.

International hangover: One thing that will benefit the South Africans is the fact that June has revealed to Meyer and the Springbok coaching team more player depth than ever before. They did however have the longest international schedule (playing the World XV, Wales twice and Scotland) so don’t be surprised to see a little fatigue from the teams this weekend.

Super Rugby Finals Series possibilities: If the Sharks can overcome some rough late form, they will back themselves for a good showing, especially if they can secure home advantage. In saying that, with four wins away in six road trips this season, White would back his troops wherever they end up. While the team is ranked equal-13th offensively overall, they have conceded only 18 tries to lead Super Rugby and their big pack and pressure rugby is well-suited to knockout competition.