If you had any plans on Saturday – besides staying glued to the TV – cancel them because Round 18 of Super Rugby is not to be missed.
If you had any plans on Saturday – besides staying glued to the TV – cancel them right now because Round 18 of Super Rugby is not to be missed.
It's a potential winner-takes-all for the Bulls and Sharks in a compelling South African derby at Loftus Versfeld on Super Saturday, especially so if the Waratahs win their all-Aussie clash against the Brumbies at ANZ Stadium.
The defending champion Bulls and the Sharks are just one point ahead of the Waratahs, who can clinch a play-off place if they can get past the improving Brumbies.
It's a promoter's dream as the fifth-placed Bulls, winners of their past six games, face a showdown with the sixth-placed Sharks. Both teams likely need to win to stay alive for a shot at the title.
The tenth-placed Chiefs will want to end their forgettable campaign off with a win against the high-riding Reds when the two teams kick-off proceedings in Hamilton.
The action then heads south to the New Zealand capital where the Crusaders can book a home play-off and potential home semi-final with a win over the Hurricanes before the attention then turns to Sydney and Pretoria.
The Cheetahs and Stormers bring the curtain down on an intriguing round of fixtures as the two South African sides battle it out in Bloemfontein, with the visitors keen to cement a place in the top two.
Chiefs v Reds
Waikato Stadium, Hamilton
The Reds are guaranteed either first or second place on the Super Rugby ladder and have the opportunity to secure top spot with a victory over the Chiefs in Hamilton.
The Queenslanders currently own first position with 62 competition points and 12 wins, ahead of the Stormers (58 points – 11 wins) and Crusaders (57 points – 10 wins).
With the Crusaders only capable of gaining a maximum five competition points in their final match – and the first tiebreaker for ladder position being total wins – they are unable to overtake the Reds.
The Reds shouldn't take their foot off the gas either knowing that a semi-final is in the bank, as a win at Suncorp Stadium two weeks from now will also book them a home final.
Form puts the visitors as favourites but history favours the Chiefs, with the Reds having only won once in their last five meetings with their trans-tasman rivals. However, they broke a four-game losing streak at Saturday's same venue when they beat the Chiefs 23-18 last year.
The Reds also know how to win on the road with Ewen Mckenzie's troops bagging five of their six away games in 2011.
If the Chiefs did manage to pull off a major upset and down the table-topping Reds, the main beneficiaries would be the Stormers, who would then get the chance to climb to the top with a win against the Cheetahs.
But even a victory might not save the 10th-placed Chiefs from finishing at the bottom of New Zealand's Conference. They are a point adrift of the Hurricanes, who would stay above the Chiefs if they did the business against the Crusaders.
The hosts may be out of the semi-final race, but they will be determined to give departing stars Mils Muliaina, Sitiveni Sivivatu, Dwayne Sweeney, Aled de Malmanche as well as coach Ian Foster the perfect send off in their final game in Hamilton.
Prediction: Both sides are missing some key players to injury – the Reds especially. The Chiefs have nothing to lose, and the Reds could lose top spot as well as a few more players to the casualty ward. We're going for an upset! Chiefs by six.
Chiefs: 15 Mils Muliaina (c), 14 Lelia Masaga, 13 Save Tokula, 12 Dwayne Sweeney, 11 Sitiveni Sivivatu, 10 Stephen Donald, 9 Brendon Leonard, 8 Fritz Lee, 7 Tanerau Latimer, 6 Liam Messam, 5 Romana Graham, 4 Craig Clarke, 3 Nathan White, 2 Aled de Malmanche, 1 Ben May.
Replacements: 16 Hika Elliot, 17 Ben Afeaki, 18 Culum Retallick, 19 Matt Vant Leven, 20 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 21 Tim Nanai-Williams, 22 Jackson Willison.
Reds: 15 Jono Lance, 14 Rod Davies, 13 Will Chambers, 12 Ben Tapuai, 11 Dom Shipperley, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia, 8 Jake Schatz, 7 Liam Gill, 6 Scott Higginbotham, 5 James Horwill (c), 4 Rob Simmons, 3 James Slipper, 2 Saia Faingaa, 1 Ben Daley.
Replacements: 16 James Hanson, 17 Greg Holmes, 18 Adam Wallace-Harrison, 19 Radike Samo, 20 Ian Prior, 21 Dallan Murphy, 22 Caleb Ralph.
Referee: Keith Brown
Crusaders v Hurricanes
Westpac Stadium, Wellington
It's crunch time for the Crusaders when the seven-time Super Rugby champs attempt to wrap up a home play-off by beating the Hurricanes and finish top of the New Zealand Conference.
The Hurricanes head into this match in fourth place on the NZ Conference table and ninth on the overall standings. If they beat the Crusaders, the Hurricanes will hand the Blues bragging rights for first place (in the NZ Conference).
The Crusaders, coming off a 22-16 win over the Blues in Timaru, are also playing for a top two finish on the overall log which will give them a home semi-final and will be cheering on the Cheetahs to keep the Stormers' pointless in Bloemfontein.
It's effectively a home match for the Crusaders, after their Round Two fixture against the 'Canes at the same venue was called off because of the Christchurch earthquake that struck the city in February (the match was deemed a draw),
Todd Blackadders's team head into this final round encounter with 10 wins and one draw from their 15 games played, whilst the Hurricanes have managed half the amount of wins in 2011 and two draws.
History also pits the Crusaders as favourites – they've won seven of the last nine encounters against the Hurricanes, but last year's fixture in Wellington was a 26-all draw.
Although Crusaders midfielder Sonny Bill Williams has been ruled out of this match with a hip injury, key head-to-head match-ups abound in this clash.
In the forwards these are likely to include Andrew Hore versus Corey Flynn at hooker, John Schwalger and Neemia Tialata versus the Franks brothers at prop, Victor Vito versus Kieran Read at eight and James Broadhurst versus Brad Thorn at lock.
It will be an all-All Black affair in the halves, where Piri Weepu squares off against Andy Ellis at halfback and Aaron Cruden faces Dan Carter at 10.
Prediction: Based on form, the Crusaders should take this. However, the Hurricanes will do everything they can to spoil the party for their “hosts”. Crusaders by seven.
Crusaders: 15 Tom Marshall, 14 Brent Ward, 13 Robbie Fruean, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Zac Guildford, 10 Dan Carter, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Kieran Read (c), 7 Matt Todd, 6 George Whitelock, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Brad Thorn, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Corey Flynn, 1 Ben Franks.
Replacements: 16 Quentin MacDonald, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Luke Romano, 19 Jonathan Poff, 20 Willi Heinz, 21 Matt Berquist, 22 Tu Umaga-Marshall.
Hurricanes: 15 Cory Jane, 14