Super 14 leaders still not safe after Round 11

Despite their first two places on the Super 14 log, the Bulls and especially the Stormers are not yet assured of a semifinal place with three rounds of the competition remaining.


The Bulls are on 39 log points and with the Stormers, Reds and Crusaders all on 34 followed by the Waratahs (33), Brumbies and Hurricanes (both on 27) no slip-ups can be afforded.


In the last two seasons the team who came fourth scored 41 points to qualify for the play offs. In 2007 the team placed fourth scored 42 points.


Both the two top South African sides still have to play Crusaders and the Sharks, and the clash between the Stormers and the Bulls at Newlands on May 15 – the last league match in the 2010 competition – could well be the decider of which of these seven sides go through.


This weekend the Bulls struggled, knocked and stuttered in a tough but error-ridden first half against the Lions who might just as well have been ahead at halftime instead of trailing 12-8 at Loftus on Saturday.


However, with Morne Steyn on target after a few off-days with the boot, the Bulls slowly clawed themselves first to safety, and then to their fourth half-century in their last six matches in South Africa.


In the end Steyn scored 26 points in the 51-11 win with five penalties, three conversions and a try to increase his lead as top Super 14 points scorer.


The Bulls ran in five of their six tries in the last 17 minutes after starving the visitors of possession in the second half and especially in the last quarter, when at long last they got their handling and options right and used their supporting players rather than barging into opposition.


The final score does not do justice to the Lions who had given their all and looked much improved on defence, in particular.


The reality, however, is that Lions coach Dick Muir has to work with a side that is well below the average at this level.


The Stormers on the other hand, despite going down to the Reds in Brisbane on Friday, went to the top of the log after their 16-13 defeat in Brisbane.


They probably expected to top the log for only two hours or so, but the Crusaders looked anything but title contenders in going down to the struggling Western Force who won only their third match of the campaign.


What the Reds win did show was that the Queenslanders could stand up to a top side in the forward exchanges; win by grinding it out and not just relying on their backs; and that they are serious title contenders with matches against the Brumbies and Hurricanes (both away) and the Highlanders (at home) remaining.


The match also showed that the Stormers, brilliant the previous weekend against Chiefs and very good against Blues the week before, could be hit and hassled up front. It remains a relative weakness and one the Sharks and Bulls will have taken note of.


Up front, after all, is where the strength of these two South African sides lies.


The Cheetahs’ 25-all draw against the Chiefs in Hamilton on Friday set the tone for a weekend of surprises. The Cheetahs defence was more committed and more effective, and this time there were better options on attack.


The Cheetahs used the rolling maul to good effect and the return of Juan Smith, both as a player and especially as captain, made a major difference to a team that has really been floundering of late. At least they looked and played like a team that believed they could win.


The draw was not enough to lift the Cheetahs from second last on the table, though, but will give them hope of notching up another win or two at home after their four matches overseas.


They still have to play the Blues, the Western Force and the Lions – all of them in Bloemfontein.


The Sharks and Blues played with contrasting game plans in the match won 23-10 by the Sharks in Durban on Saturday. The Blues ran as often as they could, and a

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