The winners of the round 17 clash between the Chiefs and Crusaders in Hamilton on Friday July 6 will also win the 2012 Super Rugby Championship.
If the Chiefs beat the Crusaders, they will finish in both conference and overall first place on 72 points. The Crusaders will finish fourth on 67 points. If the Crusaders win, they will finish in first place for both conference and overall on 71 points. The Chiefs will finish fourth on 68 points.
Only a New Zealand team can finish in overall first place. This is for several reasons, such as:
1. The Stormers’ inability to score enough “four try” bonus points and hence challenge a new Zealand team for the first place on the overall competition table (they have earned just one bonus point from nine games, compared to the Chiefs three and the Crusaders five);
2. The Australian conference winners not winning enough games to challenge a New Zealand team for that same overall first place;
3. The massive benefit of home ground advantage that overall first place provides, particularly avoiding the mid-finals trip to South Africa;
4. The round 17 game has an eight point impact on the relative scores of the teams.
I assume that there will be no upset wins. The lure of the finals always concentrates the minds of the aspiring finalists as much as the thoughts of a few weeks off on a beach relaxes the minds of teams that have missed the playoffs.
Both the Chiefs, away and Crusaders, at home, will need to defeat the Highlanders.
If either the Chiefs or the Crusaders were to lose to the Highlanders, despite winning the round 17 clash, the Stormers would finish first in both conference and overall and become favourites to win the 2012 competition.
If the Highlanders were to defeat both the Chiefs and Crusaders, they would finish first on 69 in conference and tied for first, overall, with the Stormers. The Stormers currently have a 41 point advantage in the for/against.
There are other crucial games still to be played, that will determine the conference standings and minor placings overall.
The Brumbies play the Queensland Reds and Waratahs twice. They will miss the play offs only if they lose all three games. The Brumbies successor would be decided by the Reds V Waratahs game in round 18.
The Stormers would need to lose away to the Sharks in round 14, away to the Bulls in round 15 and lose to another team to miss winning the South African Conference.
I predict that the Chiefs will overcome the Crusaders in round 17 due to the combination of their massive pack and brilliant backline together with home advantage for that game.
The Chiefs will then go on to win their first Super Rugby Competition after wins over the Crusaders in the Semi Final and the Stormers in the grand final.
The final competition table will be: