iafrica.com columnist BJ Botha tells us what the playoff-chasing sides need to do to secure their spot in the knockout phase of the Super Rugby tournament.
The final round of the regular Super Rugby season kicks off this weekend with plenty to play for. Two teams, the Chiefs and the Stormers, have already booked their places in the playoffs with six teams still in with a chance of snapping up the remaining four playoff berths. So there's plenty of motivation for the six teams battling to make the playoffs.
Motivation, though, doesn't mean that teams will suddenly throw off the shackles and abandon the principles that put them in the position to challenge for the playoffs in the first place. The Stormers proved that sticking to one's principles will pay off as they wrapped up the South African conference against the Cheetahs. It wasn't pretty, but the Stormers ground out the win in the wet. They have stuck to what's worked for them and will have a lot less pressure when they take on the Rebels, knowing that they've secured their place in the playoffs.
The Sharks did their playoff hopes a world of good with a demolition of the Bulls in Durban. The Sharks had the right attitude for the game against the Bulls, taking on the physical challenge that comes with playing them. The confidence they've gained from beating the Bulls will give them a great platform they can build on, to beat the Cheetahs and make the playoffs.
The Cheetahs have always been a bogey side for the Sharks during the Currie Cup, however Super Rugby has always shown they struggle when the Sharks are at full strength and this time will be no different. The Cheetahs did give the Stormers a scare last week but I can’t see the Cheetahs stopping this Sharks side, who will out on a mission to destroy.
Over at Loftus, the Bulls need to lift themselves for the clash against the Lions after letting themselves down badly in the physical encounters against the Sharks. The Bulls will be in for a tough game but they'll be motivated to come out firing as past champions. As they're the last game of the weekend, they'll have the advantage of knowing exactly what they need to do make the playoffs.
The key, though, for the sides preparing for these must-win games is not to think too far ahead. The players need to focus on the game at hand. These games are often tight, tense affairs so the priority should be to secure the win. Chasing the bonus point comes after and so too does thinking about progressing deeper into the playoffs. The first job is to get there.
Stormers v Rebels (Newlands)
The Rebels don’t have anything to lose in this encounter against the Stormers and this might make them a tougher side to breakdown. However, I think this Stormers outfit are too experienced to be brought down to that level and should win well at Newlands.
Prediction: Stormers to win 37-15
Sharks v Cheetahs (Kings Park)
This will be a tough encounter for the Sharks and they will have to put in the hard work before they can reap the rewards against a very competent Cheetahs outfit. The Sharks will know what is needed from them in terms of performance and also on the scoreboard and I can’t see them leaving the field without the win.
Prediction: Sharks to win 35-21
Bulls v Lions (Loftus Versfeld)
The Lions will be relishing the chance to take on their old rivals across Jukskei and the Bulls will be wary of them. Rivalry brings out the best in a team and the Bulls will have to tame this beast before they take control of this game. However, I can’t see the Lions holding on for longer than 30 minutes and could start to see the flood gates open from then on.
Prediction: Bulls to win 42-12