Super Rugby: Lions' win over Highlanders sees them roar back into power rankings
OPINION: Each week of the Super Rugby campaign, Stuff will cast aside the official standings and rank the top eight teams in the competition following the latest round's results.
Week 14 was one to forget for New Zealand sides, with only the Blues tasting victory, ending their 15-match winless run against the Chiefs.
That wasn't quite enough to propel them into our rankings though, with the Lions the big mover, re-entering the fray after beating the Highlanders.
1. CRUSADERS (9-3-1) PREVIOUS RANK: 1
So then, a second draw in three weeks for the two-time defending champions. Because they are well ahead of the competition, a missed couple of points in a 19-19 stalemate with the Stormers in Cape Town is not enough for them to lose sleep over, especially considering they were on the wrong side of a couple of late refereeing calls. But it may well keep them grounded as they return home to host the Blues.
2. HURRICANES (9-1-3) PREVIOUS RANK: 2
Still the second-best team in the competition, despite being shocked 28-20 in Wellington by the Jaguares. As much as that defeat, and the sloppiness shown, will grate, the men from the capital are well ahead in the race for the fourth and final home quarterfinal spot that the result won't really be all that significant, coupled with the knowledge that it came in a game where they were without the influential Beauden Barrett.
3. JAGUARES (7-5) PREVIOUS RANK: 3
While the result might not have much impact on the Hurricanes, it should provide the Argentinian outfit with a good dose of belief as they head into the final four rounds. Looking to build on last year's maiden finals appearance, the Jaguares will now be gunning to notch another milestone by earning a first home playoff, and they've shown they can certainly take it to their Kiwi opponents.
4. BRUMBIES (6-6) PREVIOUS RANK: 5
Had the bye at the weekend but other results have seen them earn a one-spot promotion. Their form going into the break was strong, with big and narrow home wins over the Sunwolves and Blues respectively, and they now face another important one when they host the Bulls. Still hold a one-point lead over the Rebels at the top of the Australian conference, but now the Melbourne side don't have a game in hand.
5. LIONS (7-5) PREVIOUS RANK: NOT RANKED
Make a return to the rankings for the first time since week 10 with their 38-29 victory over the Highlanders in Johannesburg. They go all the way up to No 5 as although they are third in their conference they are starting to bed in some consistency and look a bit less erratic than some of their South African counterparts, with the experience of three successive finals appearances also there for them to lean on.
6. BULLS (7-5) PREVIOUS RANK: 8
The most up and down side in the competition. Having slid three spots in the last rankings after being hammered at home by the Crusaders, the men from Pretoria now jump up two thanks to their impressive 32-17 win over the Rebels in Melbourne. Apart from one instance of winning two in a row, the Bulls' season has gone win-loss throughout. They lead the South African conference over the Jaguares on points differential.
7. SHARKS (5-1-6) PREVIOUS RANK: 4
A bye at the weekend has seen them drop three spots in the rankings, obviously through none of their own doing, but just because their unpredictable comrades have bolted back into form. Despite a draw in Christchurch and a close loss in Hamilton, they will be desperate to get back to winning ways when hosting the Lions this weekend.
8. HIGHLANDERS (5-2-6) PREVIOUS RANK: 7
Cling on to their place in the rankings after sliding a spot on the back of the 38-29 defeat to the Lions. While coach Aaron Mauger was highly unimpressed with the refereeing of Rasta Rasivhenge, the southerners also struggled to assert themselves at the set piece and breakdown and let some opportunities go by, leaving them in the mad mid-table scramble but with one less game left to play than many other sides.