Congested race for Super Rugby playoffs
Nine teams, including four SA sides, are in the hunt for four spots
The Stormers‚ Sharks‚ Bulls and Lions are all in a fight for four playoff berths along with the Highlanders‚ Rebels‚ Chiefs‚ Waratahs and Blues in one of the most frenetic finales to a Super Rugby season in history.
The Crusaders‚ after their chillingly brutal 66-0 thrashing of the Rebels at the weekend‚ have locked up the New Zealand conference and top the overall standings.
The defending champions have finished their 16 matches and have a bye in the final round of pool play‚ ensuring they will be fresh to take on whichever unfortunate team ends eighth.
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The Jaguares clobbered the Sharks 34-7 late on Saturday to secure the SA conference title for a first time, while the Brumbies have won the Australian conference.
Although the Hurricanes have 49 log points‚ which is more than the Jaguares (46) and the Brumbies (43)‚ they are only fourth on the standings because conference winners are guaranteed one of the top three positions on the overall log.
The Jaguares face the Sunwolves at home this weekend and should cement second overall‚ which would confirm a home semifinal if they make it that far.
The Brumbies will finish at least third regardless of their final result against the Reds ,while the Hurricanes do not need to send out a their first team against the Blues at the weekend. The Blues‚ on 29 points‚ still have an outside chance of reaching the playoffs though‚ but it would take a remarkable sequence of results for that to happen.
The Rebels (34 points) have a home game against the Chiefs (31). Win that and they are through‚ lose and they have an anxious wait for other results. The Chiefs need to win at a minimum to reach 35 log points.
The Highlanders (31) face the Waratahs (30) in Dunedin. The loser is definitely out of the reckoning‚ although the winner is not guaranteed a place in the last eight‚ depending on other results.
It all comes down to the two SA derbies‚ which are almost straight knockout matches. The Bulls (36) face the Lions (35), and the Stormers (34) host the Sharks (33).
The Lions and Bulls could advance‚ even if they lose‚ depending on the Rebels winning and whoever wins the Sharks versus Stormers clash denying the loser a bonus point.
The Bulls and Sharks are at a disadvantage as both returned from overseas commitments on Sunday and will no doubt feel some travel fatigue. The Bulls gained a valuable draw in Dunedin against the Highlanders last Friday, while the Sharks are returning from Buenos Aires via Sao Paolo.
The Stormers might go into the match without star scrumhalf Herschel Jantjies‚ who suffered a suspected fractured collarbone in Saturday’s 31-18 win over the Sunwolves.
“It’s not looking good for Herschel‚” said Stormers coach Robbie Fleck. “He’s going for scans.
“Johan du Toit [flank] has a rib injury. It’s not ideal with such a big game next weekend‚ but it’s been the story of our season so far. We will take stock on Monday and put a team out.
“We needed to win our last two games to reach 38 points minimum and we’re on track. Missing a bonus point against the Sunwolves was disappointing‚ but first things‚ we had to get the win.”