CAPE TOWN (Reuters) - The Bulls and Sharks completed the line-up for Super Rugby’s playoffs in contrasting style on Saturday as the regular season concluded with two games in South Africa.
The Sharks needed a last-gasp try to edge hosts Stormers 12-9 in a dramatic finish in Cape Town and will face the ACT Brumbies in Canberra on Saturday.
The Bulls, despite conceding a try to the visiting Lions after 16 seconds, put together one of their best performances of the campaign to beat their neighbours 48-27 at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria and book a Saturday meeting at the Wellington Hurricanes.
Two-time defending champions Canterbury Crusaders will get the weekend’s playoffs underway at home to fellow New Zealanders Otago Highlanders on Friday while the Jaguares of Argentina make their first post-season appearance at home to the Waikato Chiefs later the same night.
The Bulls finished second in the South African Conference as they outscored the Lions by seven tries to two in a surprisingly expansive game but have a huge task ahead of them in the New Zealand capital.
“We will feel we have every chance after the way we’ve played in recent weeks,” said Bulls captain Handre Pollard, who contributed 18 points to remain this season’s top Super Rugby points scorer.
But the Hurricanes will head into the playoffs brimming with confidence themselves after a rousing win in their final round match earlier on Saturday.
A second-string side came back from a 19-point half-time deficit to grind down the Auckland Blues 29-24 at Wellington Regional Stadium and will return to their home ground next week for the quarter-finals.
It will be the same mood for Australian Conference winners Brumbies who cruised to a 40-27 win over the Queensland Reds on a cold night at Canberra Stadium, notching up six tries to secure their sixth successive win ahead of their own home quarter-final.
“I think there’s still some improvement within us so we’re pleased with how we’re performing at the moment... hopefully we’ve got another few weeks left,” said Brumbies skipper Christian Lealiifano.
Their meeting with the enigmatic Sharks will be the first time they have faced them this season.
The Sharks were on their way out of the competition, 9-5 down at Newlands, when Lukhanyo Amn scored after the hooter had sounded.
It was the platform afterwards for beleaguered coach Robert du Preez to have a blast at home-town critics.
“The Durban press? A bunch of cockroaches,” he said. “All the terrible press that this side and management team got over the last month or however long is a complete joke.”
Du Preez said he felt his side could win in Canberra.
“I have got no doubt in my mind. This is a fantastic team. On any given day we can beat any opposition.”
Additional reporting by Ian Ransom in Melbourne; Editing by Sudipto Ganguly, Pritha Sarkar and Clare Fallon