The first week’s Vodacom Super Rugby action following the June break has taught us that nothing can be taken for granted, nor that one slip-up will be too severely punished.
Following the final week’s round of matches in May, ahead of the June break, there was some fear that the Cell C Sharks had suffered more than just a loss at the hands of the Stormers, but that their hopes of a top two finish had been removed from their hands.
But the Crusaders’ loss to the Hurricanes this past weekend has left the door wide open for the Cell C Sharks to once more hold their destiny in their own hands and build that top two finish that they seek and a direct route to a home semi-final without having to play a qualifying match.
The Highlanders’ defeat of the Chiefs also means they are a team poised to spoil at this late stage – with their remaining games against the Crusaders and Waratahs.
“At the start of the season, who would have picked the Highlanders and Crusaders to both be on 42 log points at this stage of the competition,” asked Director of Rugby Jake White. “It showed again, everyone thought that the Crusaders would win their game , and not for any other reason than the Crusaders are usually – at this time of the season – playing really well. And the Crusaders still have to play the Highlanders and the Waratahs also have to play the Highlanders, so there are still so many more permutations that can take place in the final two weekends of the pool stages of this competition.
“A lot can still happen.”
Sadly, there was no such good news coming out of Sydney when the Waratahs were able to go top of the log when they defeated the Brumbies, leap-frogging the Cell C Sharks for the first time this season.
“Unfortunately the Brumbies didn’t do us any favours when they lost to the Waratahs, but in all fairness to them, they’re a depleted team, playing a prop at hooker, it also doesn’t help them to be missing Matt Toomua and Sam Carter,” said White. “They were always going to struggle in this match against a team pushing for top spot, and achieving it with their win. We as the Cell C Sharks were never going to rely on the Brumbies to win the game and inadvertently do us a big favour.”
It’s never good to rely on other teams to do you any favours, but Lady Luck always somehow conspires to help teams at an opportune time, perhaps frowning on others when they least need it. The Highlanders winning means they are going to push the Waratahs and Crusaders hard in their final two matches, while the Crusaders loss has opened the window of opportunity for the Cell C Sharks to finish first or second – they must just grasp that opportunity with both hands.
“The most important lesson that we’ve been speaking about is that we have to keep doing what we have to do and that’s win.”
“I’ve spoken a lot about us holding our destiny in our own hands and that’s exactly true now still. We have two more games and if we win them both, we’ll finish in the top two. And if the Highlanders get a win over the Waratahs, or the Reds do the same, we can still finish top. And yes, there is always a lot of talk about finishing top of the log, but you still want to win the competition, so there is enough there for us to know we need to work hard to win the comp.”