The Stormers pulled off a dramatic last gasp draw against the Sunwolves in what would have been the upset of the tournament thus far, while the Sharks escaped with a narrow 25-22 win against the Jaguares in Buenos Aires to remain in contention for a final sprint for the knockout stage.
However, it was the men from Johannesburg who took a giant leap in wrestling the reins of the South African conference with a comprehensive 43-5 win over the Blues in a rain drenched affair at Ellis Park.
The Lions victory saw them finish the weekend at the top of the standings not only in the Africa Conference 2 but they also made up monumental ground in confirming themselves as the best team in the overall conference.
It came as a huge surprise that the Stormers struggled to shake off a spirited Sunwolves team who had looked certain for victory were it not for a last minute try by replacement prop Vincent Koch, and it brought to the fore concerns on their ability to be true title contenders.
The Sharks will also consider themselves fortunate to have walked away from Buenos Aires with their egos intact after Patrick Lambie slotted over a match winning last gasp penalty to earn them back-to-back wins and also keep them firmly in the hunt.
While the play-offs are still two months away, including a four-week recess for the June internationals, the fate of the Stormers and Bulls could be decided as early as the next two weeks – and they square off against each other at Loftus Versfeld this coming weekend.
The 17-all draw in Singapore sees the Stormers slip down into second place in the overall South African conference, one point behind the Lions and they will be much more confident than the Bulls who again failed to pitch up in their 31-8 loss at the hands of the Waratahs in Sydney.
Consecutive losses against the Brumbies and Waratahs have seen the Bulls fall out of play-off contention but coach Nollis Marais says it will be important for his side not to think too much into the future and focus on clawing their way back with victory over the Stormers on Saturday.”We always knew from the beginning of the season that it is a long road for us and there are a lot of guys who were making their Super Rugby debuts this year.
“Our focus right now is to continue trying to play the way we’ve wanted to play from the start of the season and getting better every week even though it doesn’t look that way at the moment. “We are going back to Loftus and we have a good record at home this year playing our arch enemies and we will have to be better and pitch for that game,” Marais said.
If the Bulls are to rattle the order of things and get their foot in the door of the play-offs, then they will need to play their best rugby in the next two weeks against two teams that sit above them in the standings.
The Bulls will need to reverse an early season 33-9 thrashing by the Stormers this weekend and follow it up with a Herculean performance against the Lions a week later if play-off rugby is to be part of their season of rebirth.
Friday: Highlanders 34, Crusaders 26; Rebels 22, Brumbies 30
Saturday: Hurricanes 24, Reds 19; Waratahs 31, Bulls 8; Sunwolves 17, Stormers 17; Cheetahs 34, Kings 20; Lions 43, Blues 5; Jaguares 22, Sharks 25.
Friday: Crusaders v Waratahs in Sydney.
Saturday: Reds v Sunwolves, Brisbane, Chiefs v Rebels, Waikato, Force v Blues, Perth, Lions v Jaguares, Joburg, Sharks v Kings, Durban, Bulls v Stormers, Pretoria.
Original source: Bulls may well miss out now