The run home: Top eight all but sorted

Brett McKay Columnist

By Brett McKay, Brett McKay is a Roar Expert

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    Following on from the Report Card last week, it seems as good a time as any to map out the run home for the teams definitely and theoretically still in contention for the Super Rugby playoffs.

    The short of it is that I think we’ll see minimal change to the current top eight from here on. By my loose predictions, seven of the current top eight will hold on, and five of those are in the positions I think they’ll finish.

    Here’s how I’ve reached the conclusions I have, broken down by the trans-Tasman conferences and the African Group.

    New Zealand

    I did wonder if the current four New Zealand teams in the top eight would all survive, but by my predictions the Hurricanes will do enough now to hold on. What becomes interesting is where the completion points will go with a string of local derbies to finish.

    Crusaders
    Five very winnable games to come for the Crusaders means that at least 20 competition points are possible between now and second-last weekend of July, which will be more than enough to finish in top spot.

    The loss to the Highlanders – even though they didn’t play too badly themselves – will sting, but it will quite possibly work as the ‘loss we had to have’ motivation. Very few evident weaknesses in their game currently, and Israel Dagg’s return just adds another angle of danger for opposing sides.

    Highlanders
    Only for the fact they have the bye this weekend and only four games to follow do I concede they probably can’t top the New Zealand conference. After a couple of losses they’d rather we didn’t talk about, the Clan have resumed winning in various styles that shows a great adaptability. Then can come up with a plan for any team now, and execute it with precision.

    I think they’re the best team in the competition currently, and with a lot of developing parallels to their run to the title last season. The Hurricanes next weekend will be a test, but the last test they faced in Wellington went pretty well for them.

    The Chiefs in the final round will be a great warm-up for a back-to-back title tilt, and they’re playing the kind of rugby I expected – and had me stunned that they didn’t start the season favourites.

    Also, I’ve had ‘WAAIII-SAK-EE-NAH-HOL-O’ stuck in my head since around 6pm Friday…

    Chiefs
    Coming off the bye this weekend, the Chiefs also have the advantage of five games over the last five rounds to accrue points. They’re currently ahead of the Highlanders by virtue of a 14-point superior points differential, but I’m not sure that can will last. Sadly, since I opined that they might not lose another game in 2016, they’ve been rather up and down.

    And that leaves them a bit vulnerable, though not so vulnerable that they’ll suddenly miss the playoffs or anything. Even with predicted losses to the Crusaders in Fiji, and the Highlanders, a sixth-place finish would pit them against the Stormers in Cape Town in the first week of the playoffs, a task not nearly as frightening as it once was.

    Hurricanes
    They were the team I feared could be in danger, maybe even from a second Australian side, but they should be reasonably safe from here on.

    Even with losses as I suspect, firstly this weekend to the Highlanders, and in the final round to the Crusaders, 44 points as a minimum will see them safely take a wildcard spot. Whether they’re good enough to progress to the Semis is up to them.

    Blues
    They’re done. The thumping from the Lions sealed their fate, and with a 12-point gap to the Hurricanes, I can’t see them catching the final trans-Tasman wildcard spot.

    And I can’t see them catching the Hurricanes, because they might not win another game. I’ve given them the benefit of significant doubt that they can even beat the Force for this exercise, but their last four games are all against contenders. Pass me the red pen, please.

    Australia

    Kurtley Beale’s injury changes everything. The Waratahs hold a one-point conference lead over the Brumbies going into the wounded Crusaders (the worst kind of Crusaders), and even though the Brumbies are hardly playing with the freedom of their wild namesake, the Tahs will be up against it to hold top spot.

    Waratahs
    No injury is particularly timely, but Beale’s season-ending knee injury also robs the Waratahs of their primary attacking weapon. With Beale on deck and in the form he was, they would’ve been confident against the Chiefs and Hurricanes in Sydney, but without him, I think they’re left ripe for the picking. Any bonus points they can gain could be crucial, however.

    If there’s a silver lining, it’s that other players – and I’m thinking particularly of Bernard Foley and Israel Folau – will be forced to stand up more and lead the attack. Playing out the Super Rugby season without Beale could actually be the making of Folau the outside centre; it will force him to look for and create opportunities himself.

    Brumbies
    They have the bye this weekend, which might help with some niggly injuries, and then after that, they have four games against bottom-eight teams to follow. Probably only rivalled by the Stormers in terms of unthreatening runs home, and they should take the Australian conference comfortably.

    But they aren’t playing brilliantly, and need to rediscover the concept of bonus points with the same urgency that Donald Trump needs to discover humility. While ever they can’t gain bonus points, they leave the door open for the Waratahs to pinch the conference.

    Rebels
    Look, they are, for all intents and purposes, done. A loss this weekend to the Chiefs will confirm that. But, if they somehow managed an upset and the ‘Tahs lost to the Crusaders, all while the Brumbies have the bye, then the Rebels could suddenly be within one win. Not impossible, but pretty bloody close to it.

    Africa

    In all likelihood, winning an African conference is going to involve remaining less hopeless than the nearest competitor. Second place overall, the Lions hold a two-point gap over the Sharks in Africa 2, but the form margin is significantly wider than that.

    The Stormers and Bulls are separated by three in Africa 1, and they’ve become simultaneously underwhelming, despite playing some really high quality rugby less than a month ago.

    Lions
    They’re the form South African team currently, and I think they’ll win all five game from here to the playoffs. The Bulls in Pretoria, and the return leg against the Jaguares in Buenos Aires stand as the biggest, but not insurmountable hurdles; wins in both games would only confirm the Lions as the biggest improvers from the Republic in recent seasons.

    Stormers
    They really did deserve a loss in Singapore, and if it wasn’t for Pieter-Steph du Toit, they may well have. I was enjoying the Stormers this season until about a fortnight ago, but the bye in Round 11 seems to have sapped them of their spark.

    But, they do have a plum ride home, with the Bulls in Pretoria returning after their three-week tour of Australia their only real hiccup. A win at Loftus this weekend will open up enough of a lead over the Bulls shouldn’t be troubled after that, even with an Australian tour to come after the June Tests.

    Sharks They’re eighth now, and eighth they’ll stay, with a loss to the Lions at Ellis Park in Round 15 the only red I see in their future. They should, however, be playing for bonus points, which could be enough to sneak ahead of the Hurricanes, which in turn could be the difference between having to fly to the Christchurch for the first week of the playoffs, or just heading up to Johannesburg.

    Bulls
    Just as the Bulls make me reconsider my pre-season thoughts on them (I nearly uttered the ‘w’ word in full!), they revert to type and confirm all suspicions. They’ll give plenty of teams a good physical contest from here on, but without the attacking spark they were starting to show, they won’t beat the top teams with physicality alone.

    They’re basically sweating on the Sharks tripping up from here, which with Pat Lambie back on deck, seems unlikely.

    Brett McKay
    Brett McKay

    Brett McKay is one of The Roar's good news stories and has been a rugby and cricket expert for the site since July 2009. Brett is an international and Super Rugby commentator for ABC Grandstand radio, has commentated on the Australian Under-20s Championships and National Rugby Championship live stream coverage, and has written for magazines and websites in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and the UK. He tweets from @BMcSport.

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    The Crowd Says (106)

    • May 17th 2016 @ 4:53am
      Faith said | May 17th 2016 @ 4:53am | ! Report

      The Hurricanes will falter at the last and open the door for two Aussie teams for the playoffs. The Chiefs will make they playoffs but they will not be the team that beat the Brumbies. To beat NZ teams watch how the Sharks played Chiefs, Crusaders and Hurricanes. Too dangerous to play NZ teams at their own fast game …
      Apart from the Lions and the Tahs over the last month, Aussie and Saffa teams seem to lack intensity and energy. It is easy to explains away difference in skills, but surely why should intensity be an issue … oh wait a minute – maybe board and CEO fights, transformation etc. I think intensity and energy has been an issue for non-NZ teams …
      The Reds at least brought some energy to their last game with the Hurricanes. I think they’ve been unlucky.

    • Roar Guru

      May 17th 2016 @ 5:33am
      Harry Jones said | May 17th 2016 @ 5:33am | ! Report

      Thanks for building this, Brett. Helps focus on what’s next.

      So, the Playoff in your Scenario is:

      Crusaders v Sharks
      Lions v Hurricanes
      Stormers v Chiefs
      Brumbies v Highlanders

      If that’s the case, I think NZ has a decent chance of owning all SF spots.

      There is still time for the Stormers and Brumbies to pick up, though. Stormers should have best XV back for playoffs.

      • Columnist

        May 17th 2016 @ 9:37am
        Brett McKay said | May 17th 2016 @ 9:37am | ! Report

        Ah, yes mate, that’s how the first week would look, according to my rankings…

      • May 17th 2016 @ 10:14am
        Dontcallmeshirley said | May 17th 2016 @ 10:14am | ! Report

        If that is home team first Harry then it is also plausible that the Crusaiders could be the only NZ team to get to the semis. It can be very difficult to win playoff rugby away from home and those other teams are not mugs.

        • Columnist

          May 17th 2016 @ 10:51am
          Geoff Parkes said | May 17th 2016 @ 10:51am | ! Report

          That’s a good call Shirl. You’d expect the Crusaders to win at home, but even then, the Sharks are a good travelling side.

          The other matches are by no means a lock for NZ team, the Canes got the jump on the Lions a couple of weeks back but the Lions will be far better prepared next time and would be favoured to win, while the other two teams would need to win in Cape Town and Canberra – never easy.

          No wonder the NZ derbies are so competitive – the prize of getting the only home game for winning the conference is massive.

          • May 17th 2016 @ 11:08am
            Highlander said | May 17th 2016 @ 11:08am | ! Report

            I totally agree with Allanthus and DCMShirley here, when you look at the projected semi final line up it doesn’t take a great deal of imagination to see any number of those results going against the NZ sides.

            Sharks have shown an ability to defend for extended periods which could easily frustrate the R+B’s if they don’t score early – reference last week, and I have read that the Crusaders are the dominant side this year at scoring in the opening 20, close that off and its up for grabs.

            Lions and Stormers at home could easily win their games (but I am guessing Mr Berry couldn’t referee both) and the Brums have either a vs Hurricanes type performance in them or they can rolling maul you to death, if the officiating complies.

            This is far from a slam dunk for NZ dominated semi-finalists for mine as much as I would like to see it.

            • Roar Guru

              May 17th 2016 @ 7:00pm
              Harry Jones said | May 17th 2016 @ 7:00pm | ! Report

              I’ll believe my Stormers can win a playoff game when I finally see it!

              • May 17th 2016 @ 7:23pm
                Highlander said | May 17th 2016 @ 7:23pm | ! Report

                Appears you have your emotional hedge firmly in place Harry, but maybe this year

        • May 17th 2016 @ 1:18pm
          Akari said | May 17th 2016 @ 1:18pm | ! Report

          I beg to differ as the Brumbies have shown in the past by travelling to SA and mauling their best and only falter on return for the semis because of the travel factor.

    • May 17th 2016 @ 5:46am
      Hugo said | May 17th 2016 @ 5:46am | ! Report

      Good stuff, Brett. I agree with Harry that the Kiwi teams will swamp the semis. European fans are so envious of NZ rugby. Specially after the torpid Grenoble/Quins, Sarries/Racing games on the weekend. There’s huge interest in the Super XV in Europe, and your post will be widely read there as it deserves to be.

    • Roar Guru

      May 17th 2016 @ 6:31am
      moaman said | May 17th 2016 @ 6:31am | ! Report

      Hard to fault your logic here Brett but can’t help thinking that a surprise or two still awaits us.
      All it takes to jog the apple-cart is an injury or two to key players and an unexpected Refereeing gaffe/TMO blunder!
      But I’m pretty confident the final 8 will come from your top 9.

      Pundits still unreconciled with the conference system may look at Harry’s playoff scenario and see that teams superior on the log, by ceding home advantage, merely serve the greater good by adding spice to proceedings!
      Crusaders v Sharks
      Lions v Hurricanes
      Stormers v Chiefs
      Brumbies v Highlanders

      • Roar Guru

        May 17th 2016 @ 7:22am
        Harry Jones said | May 17th 2016 @ 7:22am | ! Report

        Hoping it’s Saders v Landers and Lions v Stormers with a Sader-Stormer final and a huge upset

        • Roar Guru

          May 17th 2016 @ 7:26am
          moaman said | May 17th 2016 @ 7:26am | ! Report

          We all live in hope,Harry!

        • Roar Guru

          May 17th 2016 @ 11:09am
          Lindsay Amner said | May 17th 2016 @ 11:09am | ! Report

          Me too Harry, cos I put money on the Stormers to take the title before the season started. But at this stage I’ve kissed goodbye to that cash and am looking for the next Leicester City!

          • May 17th 2016 @ 12:10pm
            nickoldschool said | May 17th 2016 @ 12:10pm | ! Report

            Haha well done LA! I have also been chasing my very own leicester moment lately, had a tenner on the wolves at 1001 and Lions at 26.

            Now am pretty sure am not going go make the easiest 10 grand in my life but am still hoping the Lions repay my faith in them (and in the current SR format 😉

            • Roar Guru

              May 17th 2016 @ 12:29pm
              Lindsay Amner said | May 17th 2016 @ 12:29pm | ! Report

              Yep I also showed blind faith in Tana and put $10 on the Blues at $85-1. I’ve kissed that one goodbye too.

        • Roar Guru

          May 17th 2016 @ 11:15am
          PeterK said | May 17th 2016 @ 11:15am | ! Report

          why wouldn’t you hope for a stormers – landers final in capetown?

          Landers have to travel to SA , add having a SA ref and a SA crowd both increase your chances.

          • Columnist

            May 17th 2016 @ 11:25am
            Brett McKay said | May 17th 2016 @ 11:25am | ! Report

            We could yet see completely neutral referees appointed for the playoffs yet, let’s not go down this well-worn wormhole again..

            • Roar Guru

              May 17th 2016 @ 11:33am
              PeterK said | May 17th 2016 @ 11:33am | ! Report

              what is it with you brett ?

              I was buying into what Harry was hoping for and I was pointing out a complete scenario to hope for.

              Surely he would prefer a SA ref at home to a NZ ref since no aussie ref will get it.

              • Columnist

                May 17th 2016 @ 11:44am
                Brett McKay said | May 17th 2016 @ 11:44am | ! Report

                You’re making a clear inference of bias from SA referees, Peter, which is completely unnecessary for this discussion. It’s not needed, but you couldn’t help yourself.

              • Roar Guru

                May 17th 2016 @ 11:49am
                PeterK said | May 17th 2016 @ 11:49am | ! Report

                No Brett but you will never admit you are wrong.

                I am making a clear implication that SA teams perform better with SA refs at home and hence prefer them.
                (as a matter of english you make the inference I imply).

                Their teams with Currie cup are more used to playing under them.

                Independent studies have shown that teams have a better record when a ref from their country refs them.

              • Columnist

                May 17th 2016 @ 11:57am
                Brett McKay said | May 17th 2016 @ 11:57am | ! Report

                Right Peter, whatever you say. You’ve been banging on for days, weeks probably, about neutral referees and the obvious need for them, but now its familiarity and independent studies.

                You’re such an expert debater, Peter, you’ve got me again. You’re just too good. You’re not firing barbs or needling or anything, you’re just too clever. Well done, you’ve got me again. Nothing gets past you, because you’re just too damned good. So well done..

              • Roar Guru

                May 17th 2016 @ 12:09pm
                PeterK said | May 17th 2016 @ 12:09pm | ! Report

                Brett – Actually for years I have been saying it should be neutral refs, ever since they went away from having them.

                You get very defensive.

                Also refs are human and they have sub conscious bias, and bias towards what they know i.e their own.

                Studies have shown this as well.

                So yes home team refs are on the whole (ie. not very ref in every match but when considered on the whole) biased.

              • Columnist

                May 17th 2016 @ 12:21pm
                Brett McKay said | May 17th 2016 @ 12:21pm | ! Report

                No-one doubts the preference for neutral referees Peter, no-one. But you turned into a thing today with your snippy little inference. And you get pretty defensive yourself, don’t worry.

                I’ll save you the time from here on, and just reply ‘Yes, Peter, you’re spot on’ whenever you lay down your little jibes, and then everyone will see your superior knowledge laid bare. Because you’re just too good a debater…

              • Roar Guru

                May 17th 2016 @ 1:06pm
                PeterK said | May 17th 2016 @ 1:06pm | ! Report

                Brett – I did not make an inference, you made the inference. (correct english one implies the other infers which as a journo you should know).

                I did not imply either (which is the correct english).

                I stated a SA ref would improve their chances which statistics show is correct.

                That is not being snippety but you sure are being.

              • May 17th 2016 @ 1:19pm
                Paul said | May 17th 2016 @ 1:19pm | ! Report

                Actually, reducing the debate to knit picking over “proper English” is about as snippety and defensive as it comes…

              • May 17th 2016 @ 1:21pm
                Akari said | May 17th 2016 @ 1:21pm | ! Report

                Angus will get one of those games, surely, PK

              • Roar Guru

                May 17th 2016 @ 1:32pm
                PeterK said | May 17th 2016 @ 1:32pm | ! Report

                Akari – No aussie will get the grand final.

                In Harry’s hypothetical wish list stormers make the final.
                He had them against crusdares in chch and I hypothesised Stormers against highlanders in capetown would be better.

                Either a SA or NZ ref will most likely be appointed unless a NH ref out of the blue gets it.

                This being the case it is OBVIOUS most people would prefer a SA ref in SA for a stormers final than a NZ ref.

                Don’t know why Brett had to involved and go on about bias , snippetty, and throw accusations around.

              • Roar Guru

                May 17th 2016 @ 7:04pm
                Harry Jones said | May 17th 2016 @ 7:04pm | ! Report

                I don’t want my team to win with some questionable call by a hometown ref. I’d like my Stormers to play a lot better, and I think they will, now that Fleck the Newbie has decided on his best XV and super subs for the home stretch.

              • Roar Guru

                May 17th 2016 @ 1:34pm
                PeterK said | May 17th 2016 @ 1:34pm | ! Report

                Paul – I agree and by this late stage I returned snippety fire with snippety fire.

                Funny how a journalist though canot get basic grammar correct twice despite it being pointed out to him.

                My point being that saying a SA ref would be better for the stormers is not in itself being snippetty which Brett came around with

              • May 17th 2016 @ 1:47pm
                rebel said | May 17th 2016 @ 1:47pm | ! Report

              • Columnist

                May 17th 2016 @ 1:49pm
                Brett McKay said | May 17th 2016 @ 1:49pm | ! Report

                Yes, Peter, you’re spot on..

              • May 17th 2016 @ 7:34pm
                CUW said | May 17th 2016 @ 7:34pm | ! Report

                @ Harry Jones

                so would u like ur STORMERS to win by a questionable call from a neutral ref?

                a-la NSW against Crusaders (Joubert reffing) 🙂

    • May 17th 2016 @ 7:02am
      Mad Dutchman said | May 17th 2016 @ 7:02am | ! Report

      Two from Oz still a chance although slim. All of the NZ contenders will be taking points off each other, and if the Tahs can just do the same…
      I think the Tahs will need to win 4 of their last 5. This is probably a 2% chance without KB.
      Games like that against the Hurricanes are almost worth double points – the four you get for winning and the four you deprive them of.

      • Roar Guru

        May 17th 2016 @ 7:26am
        moaman said | May 17th 2016 @ 7:26am | ! Report

        “This is probably a 2% chance without KB.” I didn’t know you guys considered Beale such an influential player! I’ll have to watch him more closely in future.See what I’m missing.

        • May 17th 2016 @ 7:44am
          Chivas said | May 17th 2016 @ 7:44am | ! Report

          Well I would rate him above NMS, McKenzie and on par with Barrett and look at the air play they get.

          KB has certainly been a far steadier hand with decent ball security in recent times, something which along with his natural talents would make him an asset to any side.

          I wouldn’t imagine Wasps are putting up a bunch of dollars because he provides interesting news stories and inadvertently texts fat pictures to his victims 🙂

          • May 17th 2016 @ 9:42am
            markie362 said | May 17th 2016 @ 9:42am | ! Report

            Really u rate kb above nms and equal with barrret.but they can tackle

            • Roar Rookie

              May 17th 2016 @ 6:27pm
              Shane D said | May 17th 2016 @ 6:27pm | ! Report

              Barret is no defensive brick wall there markie. His ability to tackle is not his strong point.

              • May 17th 2016 @ 7:28pm
                CUW said | May 17th 2016 @ 7:28pm | ! Report

                comparatively Barrett is a better tackler. compared to Beale that is. of course he is not COnrad Smith or Johnny Wilco 😀

                his reputation as a poor tackler stems from that miss against JDV in south africa.

                however neither his club nor country has to bring in a defender from the wing and hide him at the back. he still defends in the 10-12 channel 🙂

                same cant be said of Beale … right ? 😛

        • Roar Guru

          May 17th 2016 @ 11:11am
          Lindsay Amner said | May 17th 2016 @ 11:11am | ! Report

          Totally. Beale was the defining feature in the Tahs backline the year they won the title. Without him they wouldn’t have got close. This year, without him, they won’t get close.

        • May 17th 2016 @ 2:28pm
          CUW said | May 17th 2016 @ 2:28pm | ! Report

          @ moaman

          actually u shud closely watch all auzzy teams . then u will see that each of them relay on one or two players for creativity , inspiration and ultimately eak out the win.

          for nsw it is usually beale or foley – folau is a support act.
          for canberra it is pocock mainly and kuridrani or lealifano.
          for reds its hunt and kerevi
          for rebels its mcmohan and haylett petty with that big center also supporting
          for force its their captain and …….

          on the other hand nz and a couple of sa teams have quite a few game changers.

          the only really outstanding player among those teams is Nandolo. most of the others are replaceable / the team does not relay so heavily .

      • Columnist

        May 17th 2016 @ 9:39am
        Brett McKay said | May 17th 2016 @ 9:39am | ! Report

        Very slim, Dutchy. The Waratahs would need to keep winning, and the Brumbies would have to make up the 7pt gap to the Hurricanes – remembering the 4th wildcard spot will go to the third-placed African side..

    • May 17th 2016 @ 7:30am
      Rugby Tragic said | May 17th 2016 @ 7:30am | ! Report

      Thanks Brett… agree generally, with your projections. There we go… having stated that, now watch the upsets!

      • Columnist

        May 17th 2016 @ 9:40am
        Brett McKay said | May 17th 2016 @ 9:40am | ! Report

        Nothing surer now, RT, nothing surer…

        • May 17th 2016 @ 2:34pm
          CUW said | May 17th 2016 @ 2:34pm | ! Report

          @ Brett McKay

          me thinks ur predictions will depend on the kind of Chiefs that come out after the bye.

          they lost steam a couple of weeks before the bye and also lost some of their more influential players to injury.

          Nagatai and leitch being on the park will be very important for Chiefs success.

          • Columnist

            May 17th 2016 @ 3:15pm
            Brett McKay said | May 17th 2016 @ 3:15pm | ! Report

            No doubt CUW. There’s a lot of assumption and guesswork in most of the predictions, obviously..

          • May 17th 2016 @ 3:25pm
            ClarkeG said | May 17th 2016 @ 3:25pm | ! Report

            Ngatai is out for this weekend.

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