The DHL Stormers will be crowned South African Conference champions for the third time in five years, but will also be the only representative from the Republic in the Vodacom Super Rugby play-offs in 2015.
In fact, the top six teams for 2015 have also been determined with one round left in the league phase of the competition, meaning the Vodacom Bulls and Emirates Lions will miss out, along with the seven-time champion Crusaders.
The Hurricanes have wrapped up the New Zealand Conference and top spot on the log, but the second position and the identity of the Australian champions – it’s between the Waratahs and the Brumbies – will be known only after next weekend’s matches.
The DHL Stormers’ 19-19 draw against the Emirates Lions in Cape Town on Saturday afternoon means they clinched the SA Conference, but are dependent on other results going their way in order to claim that all-important second spot in the overall standings.
The draw also ended the Emirates Lions’ slim chances of finishing in the top six for the first time ever, but they can be proud of their best-ever season in Vodacom Super Rugby, with nine wins, six defeats and one draw.
The Vodacom Bulls’ chances also evaporated on Saturday morning when they controversially went down to the Rebels in Melbourne by a solitary point, 21-20. The best they can now hope for is eighth on the log.
The Toyota Cheetahs, in their first match under new coach Franco Smith, started very well but, ultimately, the defending champion Waratahs had too much firepower and won easily, by 58-33.
Rebels 21 (14) Vodacom Bulls 20 (17)
The Vodacom Bulls ended their Australasian tour with a disappointing defeat by 21-20 against the resurgent Rebels in Melbourne on Saturday, a result which ended their slim hopes of reaching the Vodacom Super Rugby play-offs.
The Men from Pretoria started very well and led by 17-7 shortly before the break, with Dean Greyling and Lappies Labuschagne crossing for tries. However, the Rebels hit back on the stroke of half-time with their second try and the Vodacom Bulls’ lead was cut to 17-14.
Jacques-Louis Potgieter, who converted both tries, added a second penalty goal before the Rebels’ third try put them in the lead, 21-20.
Moments later Burger Odendaal went over for what looked like a legitimate try, but the TMO controversially ruled otherwise and the Rebels hung on for a famous win – only their third-ever against a side from South Africa (they beat the DHL Stormers in 2013 and the Cheetahs last year, both in Melbourne).
On balance it still wasn’t the kind of performance which saw the Bulls win three Vodacom Super Rugby titles, but they do have reason to feel hard done by the TMO call on the hour-mark.
Rebels: Tries: Sean McMahon, Jack Debreczeni, Lopeti Timani. Conversions: Mike Harris (3).
Vodacom Bulls: Tries: Dean Greyling, Lappies Labuschagne. Conversions: Jacques-Louis Potgieter (2). Penalty goals: Potgieter (2).
Toyota Cheetahs 33 (21) Waratahs 58 (29)
Supporters in the Free State Stadium in Bloemfontein were treated with 14 tries on Saturday afternoon, but unfortunately the home team were on the wrong side of the scoreboard as the Waratahs beat the Toyota Cheetahs by 58-33.
It was a breathless affair with six tries scored in the first half-hour, three by each team, but the Waratahs carded two more in the final three minutes of the first half to give them breathing space at the break.
The visitors increased their lead with a sixth try in the second minute of the second half, and although the home team never gave up, three more tries in the final quarter meant the visitors ran away with it at the end.
Israel Folau got a hat-trick of tries for the defending champions from Sydney and their flyhalf, Bernard Foley, contributed 18 points to move him up to the second spot on the list of top points-scorers for 2015.
For the home team, Cornal Hendricks and Francois Venter scored a brace of tries each and Boom Prinsloo went over for his eighth five-pointer of the season, which places him joint-third on the list of top try-scorers for the season.
Toyota Cheetahs: Tries: Boom Prinsloo, Francois Venter (2), Cornal Hendricks (2). Conversions: Coenie van Wyk (3), Niel Marais.
Waratahs: Tries: Israel Folau (3), Matt Carraro (2), Bernard Foley, Michael Hooper, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Teqele Naiyaravoro. Conversions: Foley (5). Penalty goal: Foley.
DHL Stormers 19 (12) Emirates Lions 29 (12)
The DHL Stormers were held to a 19-19 draw by the Emirates Lions in a hard and exciting Vodacom Super Rugby match at DHL Newlands in Cape Town on Saturday afternoon.
For both teams, it was only their second ever draw in a local derby. This result, coupled with the Bulls’ defeat in Melbourne, mean the Capetonians can no longer be caught at the top of the SA Conference and are guaranteed a spot in the top three on the log.
It was a match of ‘tit for tat’ with the two packs matching each other throughout the 80 minutes. DHL Stormers scrumhalf Nic Groom got the scoreboard ticking over with a sneaky try from close by in the seventh minute, but 10 minutes later his direct opponent, Faf de Klerk, scored in almost similar fashion.
Dillyn Leyds, for the home team, and Schalk van der Merwe, for the visitors, also scored tries in the first half but neither were converted and the teams went into the break at 12-12.
When Nizaam Carr went over in the 52nd minute, with Kurt Coleman adding the extras, it looked like the DHL Stormers could sneak it but the Lions never gave up and Malcolm Marx got his first try at this level with four minutes left, with Marnitz Boshoff adding the conversion.
The Emirates Lions finished strong on the attack, but the DHL Stormers’ usual water-tight defence held firm.
DHL Stormers: Tries: Nic Groom, Dillyn Leyds, Nizaam Carr. Conversions: Demetri Catrakilis, Kurt Coleman.
Emirates Lions: Tries: Faf de Klerk, Schalk van der Merwe, Malcolm Marx. Conversions: Elton Jantjies, Marnitz Boshoff.
Other results – Round 17:
Hurricanes 56 Highlanders 20
Force 20 Brumbies 33
Blues 11 Crusaders 34
Reds 3 Chiefs 31