So we’re into the race for the Super Rugby finals. With almost every team in contention, let’s rank their run home.
For the sake of spacing and sanity, we can rule out the Sunwolves, while locking in the Hurricanes and Crusaders for playoff spots.
The surprise packet here, but after Sunday’s win over the Sunwolves they’re topping their conference, and you’d be brave to tip against them in finals footy.
They pause for a bye, before the Bulls, Sunwolves, Waratahs and Reds – all very winnable games.
The Sharks are a weird old one, while they lead their group, they’ve less wins than their SA counterparts, Bulls, Jaguares and Lions, having cashed in on the bonus points.
Home matches versus the Lions and Hurricanes shape as a challenge, not to mention a trip to Capetown and Argentina.
Their once-almighty home fortress looks a bit iffy this year, with a loss to the Hurricanes and draw with the Chiefs, but it’s hard to imagine a finals series with less than three New Zealand teams, and ruling out the Blues and Chiefs, that means them.
They sit on 29 points, a fraction above the remainder of the top right, on 28, but they’ve still got an SA tour to tick off.
It’s a yes from me. They’ve knocked over Aussie counterparts the Brumbies (admittedly at a weaker time) and the Reds, twice, with a win over the Sunwolves and narrow loss to NSW.
With competition for backline positions, not to mention with Matt Toomua returning, and the ability to match it with any team, you’d be brave (and dumb) to tip against them.
Surprising good this year; they’ve toppled the Sharks both times, have 1/2 versus the Stormers, and accounted for the Lions. The Jaguares are their bogey team, but shouldn’t have any issues with a derby game in the finals.
I really don’t think so. They’ve been much too inconsistent, especially in home games (4/6) where they have a massive travel advantage.
They spend three more weeks on tour, with the Hurricanes, Waratahs and Reds, and despite sky blue woes, I don’t see them getting more than bonus points.
The first team I rank from outside the finals positions, the Johannesburg locals are firmly middle-of-the-road. Coming off three consecutive grand final appearances, it was obvious early on that they weren’t the team of previous years.
They’re also the top ranked team with a points differential minus zero, and are fourth in the SA conference. With the Highlanders, Sharks, Stormers, Hurricanes and Bulls to come, I err on the side of caution here.
The Capetown locals are last in the Republic’s conference, and are part of the five win club. With a 4/6 win-loss within their group, it’s outside the conference that their troubles start.
They lost to the Hurricanes, Blues and Reds on tour, before an upset victory versus the Rebels, but the Brumbies spoilt the party on the return home.
Both South island New Zealand teams loom, before the Lions, Sunwolves and Sharks.
Five wins gives them a buffer over the lower ranked sides, and while one of those was against the Sharks, two were against the Sunwolves.
Last round’s loss was a missed opportunity to top the group, but their home stretch is very manageable.
Clashes with the Chiefs and Blues shape as winnable, along with a Brumbies rematch, which they’ll be hoping goes the same way as the 36-14 win earlier.
Firstly, they’ll have to topple the Waratahs this Saturday, and the Round 16 Jaguares match may be a handful for a young team.
Though they lead the Waratahs, Blues and Sunwolves, they’ve still got a bye, and it’d be a remarkable turnaround for them to play postseason.
The only thing that gives me hope is that they’ve beaten the Crusaders – the only team to do so.
Other than that, soft losses to the Sunwolves, Blues and Sharks remove all credibility.
All their wins this year have come in a short period of bliss for long-suffering supporters. They’ve beaten the Sunwolves, Highlanders, Stormers and Waratahs, but will need one heck of winning streak to see them home.