Top eight all set – with one possible exception

Brett McKay Columnist

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    The scorelines and the margins and the fact that 60 per cent of The Roar‘s tipping panel picked perfect rounds tells us it was a pretty predictable Round 11. And even those of us unfortunate enough to get a tip wrong will concede it wasn’t that surprising.

    When seven of the eight games featured teams with a distinct table position advantage over their opponents, it wasn’t difficult to see it coming. And the point here is that over the remaining six rounds between now and the finals, we’re going to see more of these predictable rounds.

    The reason for this is simple: the top eight is set already.

    As it stands after the completion of Round 11, there’s now a two-win and eight-point gap between the top eight sides and Blues and Jaguares, the next best sides trailing.

    And yes, by ‘top eight’ I mean the eight teams in playoff positions. Regardless of your thoughts on the conference system, no amount of debate is going to change the format this season.

    The four conference winners and four wildcard qualifiers will take part in the playoffs, and for the purpose of this exercise will be referred to as the top eight. And they’ve opened up a gap. There is, of course, one exception to this, but I’ll come back to the Australian conference shortly.

    In New Zealand, the Crusaders, Chiefs and Hurricanes standout as genuine contenders for the title.

    The Crusaders remain unbeaten, and if they haven’t lost a game by now, it makes you wonder if they’ll drop one at all. The Chiefs and Hurricanes are probably one step behind them, but that probably won’t matter in the grand scheme of things, because if we’ve learnt one thing about the New Zealand sides over the last few seasons it’s that they can beat anyone, anywhere, including themselves.


    (AP Photo/Mark Baker)

    The Highlanders are currently very up and down, but have two distinct advantages over the Blues – two wins and six points.

    The wins part of the equation is particularly important, because if the Blues managed to close the points gap, the number of wins is the first step in the tie-breaking process. The Blues don’t have a bad run home, but neither do the Highlanders, and neither side has to worry about being overtaken by the next-best Australian side, with the Waratahs three wins behind the Blues.

    In Africa 1, the Stormers, despite four straight losses, sit three wins and 12 points clear of the Bulls, who, frankly, wouldn’t look out of place in the Australian conference. The Stormers have a good run home, too, and will quite likely finish the season further ahead again.

    The Lions are ten points clear of the Sharks in Africa 2, and to me, loom as the only team capable of beating one of the New Zealand sides in the final. They’re playing better than they were this time last year and have shown this campaign that winning away from home is something they’ve very capable of.

    They’re aided by both a good run home and the very patchy form of the Sharks, and if the Crusaders’ unbeaten run does come to an end, you couldn’t rule out the prospect of the Lions finishing on top overall. They’re capable of winning a final in New Zealand this season, but if they earn an Ellis Park final, they’ll really take some beating.

    The Sharks, for all their faults and patchy form, remain two wins clear of the Jaguares; their only mathematical challenger for the one African wildcard spot.

    And that brings us to Australia.

    Current form suggests that the conference winner is going to be the least worst of the five teams. I said last week that it comes down to the Waratahs or the Brumbies, and nothing over the weekend has changed my mind.

    And that’s not because the Waratahs were great; they were far from it. But the Reds could only run with the Chiefs for about 35 minutes, the Force were as mediocre as all of the Sharks bar Curwin Bosch, and the Rebels never looked like troubling the Lions.

    The Waratahs would need to win every game from here. The Brumbies need to do the same to have any hope of being competitive in the playoffs, but the Waratahs’ results will determine whether the Brumbies need to win every game to top the conference.

    The teams are equal on wins, but the Brumbies hold a significantly better for-and-against record (which is the second tie-breaker step), and the current four-point advantage might just be enough to carry them all the way through to the playoffs.

    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 (107)

    • May 9th 2017 @ 4:32am
      Luke Ringland said | May 9th 2017 @ 4:32am | ! Report

      Agree. No matter what they do from here, I think the Waratahs are a win short of catching the Brumbies, but it’s for sure still a possibility, given that Brumbies results can in no way be taken for granted. What a sad story that is.

      I think much about the Waratahs comes down to the Foley injury at the start of the season. This is not to say that this SHOULD be a good excuse — a professional outfit with adequate depth and preparation should not fall to shambles with the loss of one player, even a key player — but with everything happening in Australian rugby right now, you can almost understand why a lack of momentum and confidence like that could be so devastating.

    • Roar Guru

      May 9th 2017 @ 4:43am
      biltongbek said | May 9th 2017 @ 4:43am | ! Report

      The Bulls won’t look out of place in the Aussie conference, 🙂

      Sadly apart from the Lions I don’t think there is much difference between the SA teams and Aussie teams.

      • May 9th 2017 @ 1:20pm
        KF said | May 9th 2017 @ 1:20pm | ! Report

        Oh, yes, there is! Both Kings an Cheetas can score tries and play quite fast and entertaining game. If you look at the last few seasons there were high number of games when AUS sides were kept scoreless in a half – this rarely happen (even to Kings). Stormers and Sharks play a bit different game and Bulls are struggling this year (a bit like Waratahs and Reds in 2007 if anyone cares to remember).



      • May 9th 2017 @ 4:59pm
        cuw said | May 9th 2017 @ 4:59pm | ! Report

        @ biltongbek

        that is a little hard – considering the Lions, Stormers and Sharks have substantial points compared to the other teams.

        on the table atm, it is interesting to note the gap between 10th and those below – 9 points. in fact the 10th has more or less 1/2 the points of the crusaders while 11th has 1/3 !!

        this is the issue with super rugger – there is a big gap between the top half and the bottom half.

        comparing to a tournament like IPL (just 8 teams) – where around 3 teams are still fighting for the top 4 place with just 2 rounds left. this is what super rugger shud be – rather than knowing finalists with like 6 rounds to go …..

        • Roar Guru

          May 10th 2017 @ 1:19am
          biltongbek said | May 10th 2017 @ 1:19am | ! Report

          Cuw, points men little when you stand no chance of winning the comp. The New Zealand teams are streaks ahead of the South African teams with exception of the Lions.

      • Roar Rookie

        May 11th 2017 @ 4:45pm
        Kirky said | May 11th 2017 @ 4:45pm | ! Report

        Biltongbek – Agree with your assumptions mate re the Bulls, boy they we’re hard to watch last weekend !
        The Lions as you say are really the only SA, team playing the game. ~ What do you reckon about the Kings mate? A couple of games I’ve seen them play, they went pretty well, better than the Bulls or Sharks in my opinion!
        You’re right also about there being not much difference between the OZ and SA boys!
        Did you read Bryan Habana’s article this morning? Very interesting! Cheers!

    • May 9th 2017 @ 4:55am
      DanFan said | May 9th 2017 @ 4:55am | ! Report

      The Stormers were looking pretty good before their run against NZ sides, even though they beat the Chiefs at home. Maybe teams who don’t get to play NZ sides have a slight advantage. I’m sure Oz sides would enjoy a season without having to play their trans-Tasman foes.

      • Roar Guru

        May 9th 2017 @ 5:15am
        biltongbek said | May 9th 2017 @ 5:15am | ! Report

        The stormers complained last year they didn’t play the NZ sides, this year they will complain they did.

        • Roar Guru

          May 9th 2017 @ 5:17am
          Harry Jones said | May 9th 2017 @ 5:17am | ! Report

          Hahaha, that’s a good shot, BB, but really, Fleck and his Kiwi coach were REALLLLLY pumped up to play NZ teams and that win over the Chiefs was no joke. Probably the best win over a NZ side by a SA team I’ve seen in a while.

          Tour from hell, yes. But good fight at the end, and I think WP is a tough side to beat at home, still.

          • Roar Guru

            May 9th 2017 @ 5:19am
            biltongbek said | May 9th 2017 @ 5:19am | ! Report

            Hi Harry, we have a serious shortage of good coaches in South Africa.

            The kiwi’s must be thinking they are co stars in dumb and dumber rugby too.

            • Roar Guru

              May 9th 2017 @ 5:22am
              Harry Jones said | May 9th 2017 @ 5:22am | ! Report

              Yes, it’s coaching and administration where we realllllllllllllllllllllllly suck.

              Got plenty of good players, ready to learn, trying to learn.

              They go to Europe and become those clubs’ absolute legends.

              Here, they just learn to kick chase run over someone and set piece

              • May 9th 2017 @ 10:16pm
                Council said | May 9th 2017 @ 10:16pm | ! Report

                Harry and Biltong, an amusing little side story while you’re both here.

                I saw a post on a ABs rugby page on FB the other day, the name was rather familiar so I asked, do you happen to be the same Armand Van Zyl from the Roar?

                And it was! It’s been such a long time that we’ve seen him post here and it’s been a shame.

                The three of you really added a great view of SA rugby to the roar.

                He was surprised to hear that you were back here posting occasionally Biltong, and sad to hear that the mighty pen of Mr Jones hasn’t written many articles of late.

                I’m still waiting to hear what happens to the captain of the rugby team you wrote articles about Harry!

              • Roar Rookie

                May 11th 2017 @ 4:53pm
                Kirky said | May 11th 2017 @ 4:53pm | ! Report

                Council! Yep I agree, Armand Van Zyl was a very good contributor, but although he’s a South African right through, he does have Kiwi affiliations as his a Kiwi!
                Love to see him back on here!

              • Roar Guru

                May 10th 2017 @ 1:21am
                biltongbek said | May 10th 2017 @ 1:21am | ! Report

                Council, sadly our rugby these days doesn’t merit much to discuss

          • May 9th 2017 @ 8:52am
            sean said | May 9th 2017 @ 8:52am | ! Report

            “Probably the best win over a NZ side by a SA team I’ve seen in a while.”

            It was a good performance but hardly as impressive as the Lions playoff wins or the Sharks’ win over the Canes in Durban last year.

          • May 9th 2017 @ 10:58am
            Pinetree said | May 9th 2017 @ 10:58am | ! Report

            Harry – I thought the Chiefs form really went and only picked up last week. From round 4-10 they had luckily some easy teams who they only beat by smallish margins, They beat the Rebels 27-14, the Force 16-7 and the Sunwolves 27-20 at home. Most of the kiwi sides have been putting these teams away by more, and you can include the Lions and even the Sharks. The Chiefs have got away with a mid season slump and I think the Stormers win was helped by the Chiefs drop in form.

            • May 9th 2017 @ 1:00pm
              MitchO said | May 9th 2017 @ 1:00pm | ! Report

              Chiefs do have a very dangerous backline with McKenzie, Cruden and the KerBarlow, ALB and now Ngatai and Donald. Some real good forwards too in Cane, Messam and Retallick. The Force pushed them close because our Force were able to match their forwards (lets not talk about the lineouts). I like Cane but I reckon Hodgo was better on the day but there aren’t really too many Hodgo equivalents out there. Savea and Hooper are different. It was a great battle in the forwards. The Chiefs were unlucky to not score a few more tries but I will credit the defensive pressure because there was a lot of it.

              In short I think the Chiefs have the class across the paddock to beat anyone. As someone noted, one day Barretts purple patch will fall just so slightly short.

              I hope the Force make the finals but in terms of backing a contender I am going with Canterbury on nostalgic grounds. I don’t know if they are the best team but they seem to be the best organisation.

              • May 9th 2017 @ 3:25pm
                Quin said | May 9th 2017 @ 3:25pm | ! Report

                The are not Canterbury!

    • Roar Guru

      May 9th 2017 @ 5:14am
      Harry Jones said | May 9th 2017 @ 5:14am | ! Report

      I wouldn’t count the Stormers out, yet. Back home in Fortress Newlands, and a lot of starting players returning in waves, I think it’ll be a strong run. DdeA, J-L du Plessis, Dan du Plessis, Senatla, Elstadt (missed him), EE, PSDT, and top props…

      But for now, I’d agree with your Top 4, and this weekend is probably the derby I am the most wanting to see all season.

      Winner is the favourite from then on, with possible exception of Ellis Park 3-5 point edge swinging it to Lions.

      • Roar Guru

        May 9th 2017 @ 5:20am
        Harry Jones said | May 9th 2017 @ 5:20am | ! Report

        Stormers could very well run the table, the rest of the season, if we stay healthy.

        • May 9th 2017 @ 6:54am
          BBA said | May 9th 2017 @ 6:54am | ! Report

          To your earlier point I do think the Stormers are better placed for the playoffs for having faced the Kiwi sides earlier.

          Some times I feel that the teams panic and get sucked in trying to play the Kiwis game. Stormers did better against the Hurricanes for keeping it in tight, mauling and kicking penalties. Yes their outside defence to the kick pass was terrible but they have time to work on that.

          It is still a big advantage for the Stormers getting a home play off match.

        • May 9th 2017 @ 1:19pm
          Rugby Tragic said | May 9th 2017 @ 1:19pm | ! Report

          Hey mate.. they have yet to play the Blues in Cape Town … *wink*

      • Columnist

        May 9th 2017 @ 10:27am
        Brett McKay said | May 9th 2017 @ 10:27am | ! Report

        Oh, there’s no counting them out Harry, but I do think they’ll struggle to finish higher than the Lions, which potentially puts them on the road for a semi-final, in which case I’d have concerns about them winning in NZ or Jo’burg..

        • May 9th 2017 @ 2:38pm
          cuw said | May 9th 2017 @ 2:38pm | ! Report

          @ Brett McKay

          “The Lions are ten points clear of the Sharks in Africa 2, and to me, loom as the only team capable of beating one of the New Zealand sides in the final. They’re playing better than they were this time last year and have shown this campaign that winning away from home is something they’ve very capable of.”


          for me, the lions this year are as not good as last year ; they are up there just becoz of playing the auzzy teams.

          they are like the chiefs , not in great form but still stringing together a few close wins.

          though it cant be helped , the problem is they will have the easiest run in the final rounds.

          i really hope there will be neutral refs in final rounds – the entire panel, that is.

    • May 9th 2017 @ 6:42am
      Baylion said | May 9th 2017 @ 6:42am | ! Report

      A bit of shuffling will still happen at the top

      The Saders has a tough run in and the bye will hamper them
      Canes (H), Chiefs (A), Rebels (A), Landers (H), Bye, Canes (A)

      The Lions’ run have a chance of a full house of 5 pointers but they must still navigate a bye
      Brumbies (A), Bulls (H), Kings (H), Sunwolves (H), Bye, Sharks (A)

      The Stormers has some injury issues and a tricky start to their final run but should be plain sailing from there
      Bye, Blues (H), Sharks (A), Cheetahs (A), Sunwolves (H), Bulls (A)

      The Brumbies has the Lions and Chiefs during their final run
      Lions (H), Kings (A), Jaguares (A), Rebels (H), Reds (A), Chiefs (A)

      The Chiefs bye will set them back but face only 3 Kiwi sides
      Bye, Saders (H/A), Blues (A), Tahs (H), Canes (A), Brumbies (H)

      The Canes has a game in hand and the second easiest run of the Kiwis
      Saders (A), Cheetahs (H), Bulls (A), Force (A), Chiefs (H), Saders (H)

      The Clan, also with a game in hand, has the easiest run facing only one Kiwi side
      Bulls (A), Force (A), Tahs (H), Saders (A), Bye, Reds (H)

      The Sharks also has an easy run where the match against the Lions might only have academic value
      Kings (A), Sunwolves (A), Stormers (H), Bulls (H), Bye, Lions (H)

      • May 9th 2017 @ 11:09am
        Pinetree said | May 9th 2017 @ 11:09am | ! Report

        Nice summary there Baylion. I do think the Stormers will not find the Cheetahs or Bulls easy away from home. If things turned bad I could see them losing to the Blues at Capetown, and the Sharks, Cheetahs and Bulls away from home such is the rivalry of SA teams with home pride. Even so, the Bulls have the Landers (H), Lions (A), Canes (H), Sharks (A), Kings (H) and Stormers (H). Even if the Stormers only won 1 game here on in, I could not see the Bulls making up the 12 points plus 4/5 more for the almost certain win for the Stormers/Sunwolves game. So the Stormers will win the conference easily regardless.

      • May 9th 2017 @ 2:43pm
        cuw said | May 9th 2017 @ 2:43pm | ! Report

        no point complaining , BUT the lions will top the table playing rubbish teams and will have a home advantage in the final rounds.

        the 2 best NZ teams are hard done – having to play each other twice !!! once they kill each other , it will be plain sailing for lions.

        last year the lions were much better and played NZ teams. this year almost the same team is not so good and stringing together close , hard fought wins against average opposition.

        the problem is , whoever that play lions will have to travel whether win or lose.

        • May 9th 2017 @ 8:47pm
          Baylion said | May 9th 2017 @ 8:47pm | ! Report

          The Lions changed their game quite drastically from last year.

          They play a much more forwards driven game this year and are more patient at taking attack opportunities. They are also focussing more on their defence and the quick reset from attack to defence and vice versa.

          They just seem a lot more clinical than they were last year and I believe they are pacing themselves to peak at the right time while using portions of matches to practice those aspects of their game they will need when the face the Kiwi sides.

          At times they go through fairly long stretches of defence, allowing opposition teams to attack but when they need to score points they do, even if it’s after the hooter.

          That’s the feeling I get anyway.

    • Roar Guru

      May 9th 2017 @ 6:56am
      Sam Taulelei said | May 9th 2017 @ 6:56am | ! Report


      Brumbies are only one of six teams to accumulate 6 bonus points so far in the comp.

      That provides them with a comfortable buffer over the Tahs as it’s the equivalent of an additional bonus point win plus an extra point.

      While they share same number of wins the Brumbies do have a game in hand and the Australian conference is theirs to lose.

      • May 9th 2017 @ 7:09am
        Bring Back...? said | May 9th 2017 @ 7:09am | ! Report

        Agree, win this week and the Brumbies are a shoe in for the Aussie conference. Tahs aren’t going to beat Chiefs or Highlanders away, and probably not the Force either. They might beat the Rebels and Jags at home.

      • Columnist

        May 9th 2017 @ 10:25am
        Brett McKay said | May 9th 2017 @ 10:25am | ! Report

        Very true Sam, and the most losing bonus points in the competition, too, which shows that even when they can’t win, they’re at least getting something out of a game…

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