by Fanie Heyns

South Africa’s super weekend in Super 15

It was a Super Saturday in more than one way

Super Rugby
It was a Super Saturday in more than one way for the South African Super Rugby franchises, as the DHL Stormers clinched the top spot on the combined conference log to secure a home semi-final and (if they qualify) a home final. Furthermore, the Bulls and the Sharks also qualified for the playoffs.

The Bulls, who finished fifth on the log, travels to Christchurch for the playoffs against a seven-time winner of the Super Rugby competition, on Saturday. The Sharks, who qualified in sixth place, will embark on “Mission Brisbane” to take on the current Super Rugby champions, the Reds.

The Stormers edged the Chiefs for the number 1 overall spot in the combined conferences after the Hurricanes scored the winning try in the 84th minute between these two New Zealand teams.
The Brumbies were the Australian conference leaders, but opened the door for the Reds by losing to the Blues. Three first half tries by the Blues sealed the win.
The Sharks looked out of sorts in the first half of their final league match against the Cheetahs in Durban. But JP Pietersen, arguably South Africa’s player of the Super Rugby-season so far, engineered two tries to put the Sharks on their way to a 34-15 win.
The introduction of Willem Alberts and Bismarck du Plessis contributed to the second half domination by the hosts.
Heinrich Brüssow was in fine form in the first half as poacher and also prevented the Sharks from securing quick possession, but he did not join his team mates in the second half due to an injury.
The Stormers scrambled a 26-21 win against a spirited Rebels team at Newlands.
There was nothing convincing about their display, as they were starved of possession for much of the second half and played without attacking vigour. They lacked intensity, but their defensive prowess again saved the day. If the Rebels were more clinical offensively, the Stormers might have stumbled over the final hurdle.
Juan de Jongh scored two gems and would have done much to restore some of his lost confidence after he was overlooked by the national selectors for the three tests against England.
The Bulls won 37-20 against the Lions after a 20-20 halftime score. The Lions dominated the scrums, where JC Janse van Rensburg and Jacobie Adriaanse had Werner Kruger and Dean Greyling in retreat.
The Bulls scored seventeen unanswered points in the second half. Francois Hougaard’s solo run for a try, and his excellence at scrum-half, had much to do with their improved performance. They also excelled in the line outs.
If the Bulls want to score an upset-victory in Christchurch, they need to improve dramatically in the scrums. Wyatt Crockett, Owen Franks and Ben Franks destroyed the Stormers in the semi-finals last year, and could easily terminate the Bulls’ season in 2012.
The Bulls will also have to be more clinical in defensive situations. Against a star-studded backline featuring world-class players like Daniel Carter, Andy Ellis, Israel Dagg and Sean Maitland, they cannot afford to miss first-time tackles.
The Lions’ future
Many observers might feel this is the end of Super Rugby for the Lions, but Saru might have saved them due to a last-minute deal with the Southern Kings.
According to the Weekend Argus, reliable sources at the Kings confirmed that the Eastern Cape franchise will not take part in the 2013 Super Rugby.  
Saru reportedly paid the Kings R40 million and guaranteed their inclusion in 2016 when a new broadcast deal is due to allow the tournament to expand.
In January, it was confirmed that the Kings would participate in the 2013 Super Rugby competition. However, what Saru failed to consider was that the current broadcast deal limit the number of teams to 15 and the number of South African teams to five, reported the newspaper.
The report is yet to be confirmed by Saru, but again, raise serious questions about the national body’s handling of the issue.
There are more questions: what would the R40 million be used for, and what prompted the sudden about turn by Saru?
Meanwhile the Sharks will travel to Brisbane without Patrick Lambie, who nurses an ankle injury and Francois Steyn was ruled out because he was not signed on after 1 April.
Louis Ludik has looked in good nick after replacing Lambie but Steyn, at inside-centre, would be a big loss. Steyn’s replacement might be the Springbok u20 star Paul Jordaan with Tim Whitehead moving from outside- to inside centre to accommodate him.
The Sharks have a good chance of upsetting the Reds, but their biggest single shortcoming is their first-time tackling in the midfield, which was woeful during their overseas trip and the loss of Steyn might compound this problem.
Quade Cooper might still be ruled out for the Reds as he will face theSanzar judicial hearing for a dangerous tackle on Waratahs playmaker Berrick Barnes.
The Stormers will face the lowest-ranked qualifier in the Super Rugby semi-finals at Newlands on the 28 July.
The Springbok lock Eben Etzebeth would be fit for the semi-finals but the loose forwards Schalk Burger and Duane Vermeulen are still in a race against time to be ready for the match. Their opponents could well be the Sharks or the Crusaders. In both instances, the performances by the Stormers tight forwards will be vital.  
There is more than an outside-chance that Burger would be declared fit, but the Springbok would probably only make a cameo appearance for twenty minutes, if that.
Deon Fourie excelled in the role of eighth man on Saturday and secured turn-over possession on a couple of occasions.
Fanie Heyns
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