Who are the remaining Super Rugby contenders? asks BallHandling Hooker…
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Super Rugby returns this weekend, with the New Zealand and South Africans teams making up for the extra rounds that the Australians have had to accommodate some Northern Hemisphere visitors.
Super Rugby is a hugely entertaining competition, where pace and skill is emphasized. So far we've seen massive hits, scorching tries and baffling interviews.
In New Zealand, the Blues have massively improved on last season's dismal outing, but the Highlanders are faring even worse. The Cheetahs are entertaining anyone who watches them in South Africa, and with Willie le Roux and co on form, they are winning games in the process. The Kings are winning admirers for their brand of rugby in their first season, while the Brumbies are quietly going about their business at the top of the Australian conference.
With 3 rounds left before the playoffs, there is still a few things left to sort out. In Super Rugby, each of the top teams in each country qualifies for the playoffs, with the next 3 teams receiving wildcard entries based on match points. The top two teams in the tournament get a bye, with the 3rd champion of the 3rd country entering into quarter finals with the other wildcard teams.
Given that Australian teams only have one game left, I'll start there.
Team (Overall) Pts
Brumbies (1) 59
Reds (4) 54
Waratahs (7) 44
Rebels (12) 32
Force (13) 27
The Brumbies have been by far the best team in Australia consistently this season. Led by new Wallaby caps Christian Leali'ifano and Ben Mowen, they play a smart game, while still playing an entertaining brand of rugby. Jake White is getting the most out of his players, as can be seen in their recent win over the aforementioned Northern visitors.
The only way they can be denied top spot in the Australia conference is if the Reds win with a bonus point at the Waratahs in 3 weeks, and they fail to get a losing bonus point at the Force. Neither of those scenarios appears likely.
Both the Force and the Rebels have improved this season, and both are losing admirably. At this stage of the season, neither are threatening the playoffs. The Reds in 4th have the best chance to qualify, with only 3 other teams outside of the playoffs able to climb ahead of their tally of 54 points already. More of this later.
Brumbies beat Force with no bonus point thus finishing first in Australia with 63 points.
South African Conference
Team (Overall) Pts
Bulls (3) 54
Cheetahs (5) 46
Sharks (10) 38
Stormers (11) 38
Kings (14) 24
The South Africa conference is a little unusual, as we have the prospect of the first ever relegation.
With the new entry of the Southern Kings, the last-placed South African team in this year's Super Rugby competition will play a two-legged tie against the Lions to determine who participates in next year's event.
The Kings have done fantastically well in their first competition, winning 3 more games than most people thought they would, and apart from 2 games, were a lot more competitive, than I, and anyone else, thought they would. Their remaining games are all in South Africa, which helps, but the most points they can get is 39, while both the Sharks and the Stormers have to have no match points from here on in three games.
Up at the top, the Cheetahs can still technically catch the Bulls, but the recent defeat to them before the break probably stopped that from happening. The Bulls have a favourable draw, having to play the 3 other South African teams, while the Cheetahs face the Stormers and the fellow playoff chasing Blues.
Bulls take 13 of 15 possible points from the next games to finish 1st in South Africa on 67 points.
Kings get at most 3 losing bonus points, and face the Lions in the relegation match.
New Zealand Conference
Team (Overall) Pts
Chiefs (3) 56
Crusaders (5) 46
Blues (10) 43
Hurricanes (11) 39
Highlanders (14) 22
At this stage, only the Highlanders, who have had a terrible season, have no chance of the playoff.
The Chiefs have a commanding ten point lead, and while both the Blues and the Crusaders can catch them, it's still unlikely. The Chiefs have the hardest run in out of the conference leaders, but have the biggest lead. They play both the Blues and the Crusaders and the Hurricanes who have still have an outside mathematical chance of qualification.
The Blues have been much improved, and with young guns Charles Piutau, Francis Saili and Steven Luatua making a big name for themselves.
I think the Chiefs will take 10 points from a possible 15 of their remaining games, finishing first in New Zealand with 66 points.
This leaves the conference leaders as; 1. Bulls (67), 2. Chiefs (66), 3. Brumbies (63), with the Brumbies facing one of the wildcards.
Those still in contention (mathematically) are:
4. Reds (54)
5. Cheetahs (46)
6. Crusaders (46)
7. Waratahs (44)
8. Blues (43)
9. Hurricanes (39)
10. Sharks (38)
11. Stormers (38)
First, it shows a lot about the strength of the competition that with 3 rounds left, 11 teams are still mathematically in with a chance of qualifying, and that in 10th and 11th place are two of last year's semi-finalists.
Secondly, while the Hurricanes, the Stormers and the Sharks can still qualify, they need a lot of things to go their way, with the most either of them can achieve is 54 points, and I don't think that tally will be enough to qualify.
For this reason, I am also discounting the Waratahs, as the max they can finish with is 49.
This leaves 4 teams battling for 3 places, with the Reds, the Cheetahs, the Crusaders and the Blues. The Cheetahs are the only team in the competition that have a bye left, which means that they will finish with 50 points at least.
The way I see the season panning out is, the Crusaders, the Blues and the Cheetahs all win this weekend against the Highlanders, the Sharks and the Stormers respectively.
The following weekend is set for a titanic battle as the Blues face the Cheetahs in what initially appears to be a huge game, while the Crusaders face the Chiefs. I think the Crusaders will beat the Chiefs, who should be safe as 1st by this stage, while the Blues put more pressure on the Cheetahs with a narrow win. This leaves the Cheetahs with 55 points (after the bye), the Crusaders with 55, the Reds still with 54 and the Blues with 52. All to play for.
At this point, if the Reds lose to the Waratahs with a losing bonus point, the Cheetahs and the Crusaders would finish ahead of them based on the higher number of wins they have.
The final weekend sees the Blues play the Chiefs in a huge game, knowing that a win would guarantee them a place in the playoffs. This would be a huge achievement for a team that was all at seas last year, recording only 4 wins. Unfortunately I don't think they will have enough, and the teams will finish like this;
4. Crusaders (60)
5. Reds (58)
6. Cheetahs (55)
7. Blues (53)
(1) Bulls vs ((3) Brumbies vs Cheetahs (6))
(2) Chiefs vs ((4) Crusaders vs Reds (5))
My tip is for the Chiefs to retain their crown against a tough Brumbies side in a fantastic final.