Sports

Super Rugby Power Rankings: The road to the title runs through Ellis Park

A shock new leader emerges at the top of Scotty Stevenson’s Super Rugby power rankings heading into the final round of the regular season.

1. Lions
Rd 16: 57-21 v Kings
Last round: 2 (up 1)
Johannesburg is not the place any team other than the Lions wishes to find itself for the next few weeks, but if things remain as they are, then someone will have to play a quarterfinal there (most likely the Sharks, again, with very little hope), and a semifinal, and perhaps even a final. I don’t want to put too fine a point on this, but the Lions are the best thing about South African rugby right now and I don’t think anyone would begrudge them winning the whole damn thing. The Lions beat 43 defenders against the Kings. The use of the word ‘defenders’ here is generous.

Who could possibly begrudge Elton Jantjies a title? (Photo: Getty Images)

Who could possibly begrudge Elton Jantjies a title? (Photo: Getty Images)

2. Crusaders
Rd 16: 85-26 v Rebels
Last round: 4 (up 2)
Watching the Crusaders lay waste to the Rebels was like watching an army of machines which had suddenly become self-aware. The Crusaders are the team least likely to pass the Turing test, but to see them shake off the disappointment of Fiji with a 13-try blitz on Saturday night made you realise they are human after all. Home advantage for the all-important final round of the regular season puts them in the box seat, though they were angry with themselves about some late defensive lapses, knowing they can’t afford that against the Canes.

3. Chiefs
Rd 16:  50-5 v Reds
Last round: 1 (down 2)
Sure, the Chiefs did get the benefit of playing against 13 men for ten minutes but even if the Reds had played with 20 men they probably wouldn’t have beaten the New Zealand conference leaders. It was the Chiefs back row that was most impressive, with rookie flankers Lachlan Boshier (12) and Tom Sanders (15) combining for 27 tackles in a defensive display that held the Reds to a solitary try. Credit too, to Carl Hoeft’s scrum coaching. The Chiefs are five props down and are still having 100% nights. Their game against the Highlanders this week is likely to be one of the craziest games of rugby ever witnessed.

4. Hurricanes
Rd 16: 28-17 v Waratahs
Last round: 3 (down 1)
In years gone by the Hurricanes would have clowned it against the Waratahs, but not this mob. Playing the Tahs in Sydney is niggly, like sea lice in the Speedos, but the Hurricanes managed to stay in the scrap and didn’t panic when they fell behind early in the second half. Their 25 missed tackles will be a concern heading into the final game against the Crusaders, as will the line out, which was down on percentage over the weekend. The bus is back in service, though, and that’s good timing for the Canes.

5. Highlanders
Rd 16: 34-8 v Jaguares
Last round: 6 (up 1)
Considering how good the Jaguares were last week against the Bulls, the Highlanders must have known they would need to be on their game in Buenos Aires. They were, but they weren’t as clinical as they could have been. It’s a minor quibble, but their missed tackle count has been high all year and there is only so much you can rely on your scramble, especially in the playoffs. On the positive side, a 100% night off the tee for Lima Sopoaga is just the kind of tonic the team needs as it prepares to face the penalty-prone Chiefs this weekend in a potential conference decider.

6. Blues
Rd 16: 40-15 v Brumbies
Last round: 9 (up 3)
I know the Blues can’t make the playoffs, but on evidence provided by Friday night’s shellacking of the Brumbies, they probably should. Forget all the numbers for a second and think about this: the Blues, with nothing but pride to play for, crushed the number one team in Australia who conversely had everything to play for. That’s a coach-pleasing performance right there. Matt Duffie managed to get himself his first two Super Rugby tries, Melani Nanai continues to improve at fullback, and Steven Luatua is playing with the athleticism that made him an All Black. Say it with me: they’ll be better next year.

Matt Duffie scores a try. The Blues are now good. (Photo: Phil Walter/Getty Images)

Matt Duffie scores a try. The Blues are now good. (Photo: Phil Walter/Getty Images)

7. Stormers
Rd 16: 22-3 v Force
Last round: 5 (down 2)
I tried to watch. I really did. The only way the Stormers will ever be exciting is if someone puts a whole heap of Pokemon in Newlands. They are here because they have been given a free pass to the quarterfinals, but surely not even home advantage can help them win a playoff game if the weekend was any indication of the game plan.

8. Brumbies
Rd 16: 15-40 v Blues
Last round: 7 (down 1)
The Brumbies will be thanking their lucky stars that they are at home for the final round robin game of the Super Rugby season and playing that game against the luckless Force. The Brumbies revealed themselves as flat track bullies on Friday night against the Blues, and their flawed and limited game plan was picked apart by the Blues’ flair and breakdown aggression. They have the best lineout drive in the competition, but it will not be enough to win a title. It’ll be enough to beat the Force though.

9. Waratahs
Rd 16: 17-28 v Rebels
Last round: 9 (N/C)
Last week was the Waratahs’ chance to prove to everyone that they are better than the Brumbies and can win the Australian conference. Instead they now head to Eden Park to face a Blues team that has found it’s form and wants one final victory to give them an 8-1-6 record. I pity the Waratahs. Their best ball carrier last week was Michael Hooper. How does Michael Hooper run for the most metres in this team? I’m still clinging to hope that my prediction the Waratahs will win the conference will be proved correct, but hope is fading.

10. Sharks
Rd 16:  26-10 v Cheetahs
Last round: 11 (up 1)
You have to hand it to the Sharks, they are hanging in there for that last South African wildcard spot, and that win over the Cheetahs on the weekend was at least evidence of how much they want it. Restricting the Cheetahs to fewer than 300 running metres is a fair effort, given they would run it from the carpark, and that the Sharks kicked them the ball a round-high 36 times. The Sharks will dust the Sunwolves at home this weekend, and the Bulls will have to hope the Cheetahs don’t spring one last surprise for the season in Bloemfontein.

11. Bulls
Rd 16: 50-3 v Sunwolves
Last round: 12 (up 1)
Not bad, Bulls. Not bad. The Bulls put away the boot and ran the ball against the poor old Sunwolves (well, everyone except Francois Brummer who looks like the kind of guy who wouldn’t run even if his shorts were on fire). This may have been accidental, but hopefully it was intentional. The last thing the Bulls need now is to retreat into their conservative shell again. But it’s been that kind of season…

12. Jaguares
Rd 16: 8-34 v Highlanders
Last round: 13 (up 1)
Couldn’t get the offload game working against the Highlanders this week, and nor could the they capitalise on a whole heap of time spent inside the Highlanders’ red zone. You still get the feeling the Argentines are out of their depth in Super Rugby but I guarantee their end of season party is going to be epic. Meat sweats, anyone?

13. Cheetahs
Rd 16: 10-26 v Sharks
Last round: 14 (up 1)
I still have a soft spot for the Cheetahs, because they have the potential to be the competition’s craziest team. In fact, they haven’t been as crazy as they used to be this season, which is disappointing in the extreme. It’s like someone’s prescribed them lithium. I say cut the meds, Cheetahs, and embrace the fact you are barking mad.

14. Force
Rd 16: 3-22 v Stormers
Last round: 16 (up 2)
The Force rank this high because they conceded fewer points than any other Australian team this week. That’s as close to a positive as I can find for the Perth side this season.

15. Rebels
Rd 16: 26-85 v Crusaders
Last round: 10 (down 5)
I did say last week that the Rebels love to do their best to create AFL scorelines. They were at it again against the Crusaders though this was by far and away their worst effort since joining the competition. I’ll allow mitigation based on the number of injured players the Rebels are carrying but it’s a tough sell. They still managed to score more points than any other Australian team though.

16. Reds
Rd 16: 5-50 v Chiefs
Last round: 15 (down 1)
The Reds just need to move on to next year. When all the talk pre-match against the Chiefs was about how a 20-year old kid prop was going to be tough to tackle, you know you need a better marketing plan. A game plan would be good too.

17. Sunwolves
Rd 16: 3-50 v Bulls
Last round: 17 (N/C)
I still would like to see them win one last game. They won’t.

18. Kings
Rd 16: 21-57 v Lions
Last round: 18 (N/C)
It’s not too late to move this team to the USA.

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