Brumbies, Storm­ers aim for Su­per Rugby cred­i­bil­ity

Kuwait Times - - SPORTS -

Two first-place teams with a lack of com­men­su­rate cre­den­tials have a chance to gain some con­fi­dence this week­end ahead of the Su­per Rugby play­offs, a round they wouldn’t likely have reached if qual­i­fy­ing was based purely on win-loss records.

The ACT Brumbies, who have clinched the woe­ful Aus­tralian con­fer­ence de­spite hav­ing only six wins from in 13 matches, play the Queens­land Reds in one of five matches on the penul­ti­mate week­end of the reg­u­lar sea­son.

The Brumbies could see the re­turn of co-cap­tain Chris­tian Leali’ifano, who was di­ag­nosed with leukemia less than a year ago. He missed se­lec­tion in the start­ing XV but could be in­cluded in the re­serves for Fri­day’s game in Bris­bane.

The Cape Town-based Storm­ers have clinched the weak South African 1 con­fer­ence ti­tle af­ter eight wins from 13 matches. On Satur­day they’ll play the Tokyo-based Sun­wolves, who are com­ing off a record 94-7 loss to the Lions. The com­pe­ti­tion point to­tals for the Brumbies (33) and Storm­ers (34) would leave them out of play­off con­tention if they hadn’t clinched top spot in their con­fer­ences. They would have needed two wins in their re­main­ing matches just to have a chance of catch­ing the Dur­ban-based Sharks, who with 42 points are cur­rently the eighth of eight teams head­ing to the quar­ter­fi­nals.

None of the other three week­end matches in­volve teams which will make the play­offs. The Western Force host the Mel­bourne Rebels in Perth - one of those teams is ex­pected to be cut next sea­son as Su­per Rugby is cut back to 15 teams - the New South Wales Waratahs host Ar­gentina’s Jaguares at Syd­ney and the Bulls are at home to the South­ern Kings in Pre­to­ria.

Yes­ter­day in Can­berra, 29-year play­maker Leali’ifano missed se­lec­tion in the start­ing lineup but re­mained a con­tender for the bench. It has only been 11 months since he was di­ag­nosed with leukemia and eight months since Leali’ifano un­der­went a bone mar­row trans­plant. He’s been in re­mis­sion from the cancer since Fe­bru­ary. The 19-test Wal­laby played for the Brumbies in an ex­hi­bi­tion match in Sin­ga­pore last month and took part in a club rugby match in Can­berra last week­end. “He’s done ev­ery­thing that he needs to do to get him­self right for se­lec­tion,” Brumbies coach Stephen Larkham said yes­ter­day. “His pro­gres­sion has been good and he’s put him­self in the mix for se­lec­tion this week­end.” The Brumbies play the New Zealand-based Chiefs in the 17th and fi­nal round next week­end, and could also meet them - or the Welling­ton-based Hur­ri­canes - in the quar­ter­fi­nals.

The other two con­fer­ence win­ners are the un­beaten Cru­saders, 16-0 in New Zealand, and the Lions (13-1) in South Africa 2. The cur­rent fifth- through eighth-place teams to round out the quar­ter­fi­nals are the Hur­ri­canes, Chiefs, High­landers and Sharks.

The quar­ter­fi­nals are set for the week­end of July 21-22, the semi­fi­nals for July 28 or 29, and the fi­nal - at the home of the high­est-ranked semi­fi­nal win­ner - on Aug. 5. —AP

BRIS­BANE: In this Oct 18, 2014 file photo, Aus­tralia’s Chris­tian Leali­ifano, cen­ter, runs away from New Zealand’s Richie McCaw, left, dur­ing the Bledis­loe cup rugby match against New Zealand in Bris­bane, Aus­tralia. Leali’ifano played the last 30 min­utes of the Brumbies’ ex­hi­bi­tion match against the Asia-Pa­cific Dragons on June 22, 2017 in Sin­ga­pore. Leali’ifano could make a re­turn to Su­per Rugby in time for the ACT Brumbies’ play­off cam­paign, less than a year af­ter be­ing di­ag­nosed with leukemia. — AP

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