Home quarter-finals and a spot in the play-offs remain up for grabs going into the final weekend of Super Rugby – so who needs what?
One by one we’ll go through the leading contenders to see where they stand ahead of Round 17. Starting with the overall leaders, the Lions.
First among the conference leaders on 52 points, Johan Ackermann has gambled by resting his entire starting XV for the trip to Argentina to face the Jaguares. There’s a real chance the Lions will lose that first seeding for the quarter-finals which wouldn’t effect them immediately, with potentially home quarter-final and semi-final ties. But what about if they make the final and have to travel to New Zealand? Then the decision will seem absurd.
That said, win in Buenos Aires and first place is guaranteed, meaning the road to the Super Rugby title will go through Ellis Park.
Yes the Chiefs lead the New Zealand Conference, but barely. Just three points separate the Chiefs, Crusaders, Highlanders and Hurricanes. Round 17 is a horrible ask for Dave Rennie’s side, having to go to Dunedin to face the champions with everything on the line, but in a way it’s an acid test about where this relatively young group are mentally.
Lose to the Highlanders and the Chiefs could finish anywhere between 5th and 7th, sending them on the road at worst to Cape Town, or Canberra/Sydney, or even locally in New Zealand. Winning would certainly simplify things. An aside – if the Chiefs win with no bonus point and the Crusaders match their points total on 55 with a bonus point win, then the Crusaders would likely have the edge due to the better points difference (the splitter after table points and most wins). If the Lions lose and the Chiefs win, then Rennie’s side will take the top seed.
This is simple. The Stormers will definitely qualify as the third seed, having won Africa One Conference and being too far behind the Lions and whoever wins the New Zealand Conference, whilst being too far ahead of the Australian Conference winner.
They will be at home at Newlands, but the question is who they will play – currently any one of the Chiefs, Crusaders, Hurricanes or Highlanders.
The last home quarter-finalist, for now. The Brumbies will be favourites to beat the Force but their performance against the Blues was so abject, you never know. Stephen Larkham’s side currently lead the Australian Conference by virtue of having won more games than the Waratahs – nine to eight – so win, and they’re in.
What if they lose? Then a Waratahs win over the Blues would hand them the slot. If the Brumbies and the Waratahs lose, it will come down to bonus points. None from either side, and it all stays the same at the top of the Australia Conference.
One point behind the Chiefs and right in there with a chance to take the New Zealand Conference. If the Chiefs win those chances disappear – unless the Crusaders get a bonus point and the Chiefs do not as previously stated, giving Todd Blackadder’s group the edge on points difference.
If the Crusaders lose, and the Highlanders and Hurricanes both win, then the Crusaders will finish 7th. If one of the Highlanders and Hurricanes lose, and the Crusaders are defeated, they will finish 6th and head to Cape Town.
This is where it gets tricky. The Highlanders need to beat the Chiefs and for the Hurricanes to defeat the Crusaders to win the New Zealand Conference, BUT, if that happens then the Highlanders would need a bonus point to finish above the Hurricanes, and failing that, the better points difference.
That’s something they currently have, 139 to the Hurricanes’ 119, but that also could change. Lose and if the Hurricanes win, then the Highlanders will drop into 7th. As things stand, they’re going to Cape Town.
Given they trail the Chiefs, Crusaders and Highlanders by some way on points difference, for the ‘Canes it’s all about log points, wins and bonus points. So, a Highlanders-Chiefs draw is no good, because of the Hurricanes points difference being less than the Chiefs. Ideally the Hurricanes need the Highlanders to defeat the Chiefs without a bonus point, with the Hurricanes then defeating the Crusaders with a bonus point to get to 53 and clinch the NZ Conference.
It’s a longshot. The Crusaders have shipped plenty of points in recent matches, but they also have a good record in Christchurch. The Hurricanes could win, even with a bonus point, and still lose out to the one of the Chiefs and Highlanders. They look set to be on the road.
A simple task for Gary Gold’s men. Defeat the Sunwolves and they will hold off the threat of the Bulls for the final Wildcard spot, meaning a trip to either Ellis Park or New Zealand.
The 2014 champions need the Brumbies to slip up against the Force, either by losing or losing with a bonus point, and then to win or draw at Eden Park to finish with more points to clinch the Australian Conference.
The three-time champions are praying for a miracle from the Sunwolves to stop the Sharks in Durban. If somehow that happens, and the Bulls defeat the Cheetahs, then they will take the eighth slot.
One more thing…
What if it comes down to a draw? This matters principally to the New Zealand Conference.
If the Chiefs draw with the Highlanders and the Crusaders win, then the Chiefs take the NZ Conference, unless the Crusaders win with a bonus point to clinch it on points difference. But if the Chiefs lose, with no bonus point, the draw would be enough for the Crusaders.
The knock-on effect from that draw, with no Chiefs bonus point, would leave the teams looking like this: Crusaders 52 (win NZ Conference), Highlanders 52 (5th, like to miss out on points difference), Chiefs 51 (6th), Hurricanes 50 (7th).
Got it? We’re going for a lie down…