The Stormers beat the Cheetahs 44-34 in the final Super Rugby regular-season match to join the Queensland Reds in the semifinals as the defending champion Bulls missed the playoffs.
Fly-half Peter Grant kicked 24 points in Bloemfontein, South Africa, last night, while Gio Aplon, Juan de Jongh, Nick Koster and Bryan Habana added tries to help earn the Stormers a week off before the July 2 semifinals.
“We were in the privileged position of knowing what was needed to secure direct entry to the semis and now we can put our feet up, have a few beers and then start preparing,” Stormers captain Schalk Burger told Fox Sports. “Having a bye next weekend will allow sore bodies to recover.”
Australia’s Reds, who already were guaranteed a spot in the last four, earlier finished atop the standings with 66 points by completing the 16-game regular season with a 19-11 win over New Zealand’s Chiefs. The Reds and Stormers, who have never won southern hemisphere rugby’s elite provincial competition, will have home advantage in the semifinals.
Their opponents will be determined in next weekend’s qualifying finals in New Zealand. The Auckland Blues host Australia’s New South Wales Waratahs on June 24 before record seven-time champions Canterbury Crusaders play South Africa’s Sharks in Nelson the following day.
The Reds will take on the lowest-ranked qualifier in Brisbane on July 2 before the Stormers face the highest-ranked qualifier at Newlands stadium in Cape Town. The final is scheduled July 9 and will be hosted by whichever finalist finished highest in the regular-season standings.
The Pretoria-based Bulls, who were seeking a fourth southern hemisphere championship in five years, missed out on a top-six place and a playoff berth following a 26-23 home loss to the Sharks. The victory ensured the Sharks joined the Blues and Waratahs in the three wildcard spots behind conference winners the Reds, Stormers and Crusaders.
The competition this year split into Australian, New Zealand and South African conferences and added the Melbourne Rebels as the 15th franchise.
The Reds’ tournament-leading 13th victory yesterday, secured through a Liam Gill try and four penalties from fly-half Quade Cooper, sealed first place and a home final should they win their semifinal.
“To finish the season number one is a massive effort,” said Reds captain James Horwill. “It shows the consistency this team has been building towards. But finals are a totally different ball game, so we’ll have a week off now and prepare well.”