The leadership of the SA Conference is up for grabs once more this weekend after four teams have already topped the local log so far this season, with anyone of the Vodacom Bulls, DHL Stormers and Cell C Sharks that could be on top on Saturday night.
The crucial game this weekend takes place in Durban where the Sharks are hosting the Bulls, while the Stormers play their last tourgame in Perth against the Force and the Cheetahs host the Reds, while the Lions have their first bye after nine straight matches.
A mere four log points separate the top four South African teams, with the Vodacom Bulls on 24 (after eight matches), DHL Stormers on 22 (eight), Emirates Lions on 21 (nine) and Cell C Sharks on 20 (nine).
And even the fifth-placed Toyota Cheetahs are not out of the running as they trail the Cell C Sharks by seven points with a game in hand and a host of “eight-point” local derbies to come.
Last year at a similar stage, the difference was a massive 21 points, but only the Cell C Sharks ended up making the playoffs.
In 2013, the difference between teams one and four in South Africa was eight points at roughly the halfway stage of the competition, with the Vodacom Bulls and Toyota
Cheetahs eventually proceeding to the playoffs and the DHL Stormers and Cell C Sharks just missing out in positions seven and eight.
In 2012, a total of 12 points separated the teams from first to fourth at a similar stage and in the end the DHL Stormers, Vodacom Bulls and Cell C Sharks made the playoffs – South Africa’s most successful season yet in terms of representation in the top six.
Halfway through the season in the first year of Vodacom Super Rugby in 2011, the difference between the first and fourth South African teams was 20 points and in the end, only the DHL Stormers and Cell C Sharks progressed to the knock-out stages.
Note: Teams still got four log points for every bye between 2011 and 2013, but for this comparison we subtracted those “free points”.