England coach Eddie Jones believes rugby has a major problem on its hands.
Only one round remains in the 2019 Super Rugby regular season. The top four teams are locked in, however, teams five to eight are still at risk of missing out while even the lowly Waratahs in 12th can salvage their season with a minor miracle.
Let’s run the table and discuss each team’s chances, how high they can rise and how far they can fall, all in one weekend.
11-3-2, 58 points, +240 PD
Round 18 opponent: Bye
As per the program, the Crusaders have again been the form team of the competition and will finish the season as the New Zealand Conference winners and overall standing leaders for the third straight season.
Their only losses in 2019 came at the hands of the Waratahs in Round 6 in Sydney and against the Chiefs in Fiji. Remarkably they have registered three draws, one being a cancelled fixture against the Highlanders, making their dominance even more impressive.
The Crusaders have not lost at home since Round 17, 2016. An ominous sign for the rest of the competition as they will have home-ground advantage throughout the finals.
After defeating the Rebels 66-0 in Round 17, the Crusaders will have their second bye in Round 18. Whether or not a week off will result in rest or rust will probably garner some debate, however it is hard to imagine them struggling with the eighth-seeded team in their quarter-final in two weeks.
Fun Fact: The Crusaders’ points difference of 240 is 158 points greater than the Hurricanes, who have the second best in the league.
Best possible finish: 1st, 58 points
Worst possible finish: 1st, 58 points
Predicted finish: 1st, 58 points
10-0-5, 46 points, +67 PD
Round 18 opponent: Sunwolves (H)
The Jaguares have improved in each of their four seasons of Super Rugby, culminating in a maiden finals appearance in 2018. With ten wins in 2019 the side has already surpassed their 2018 record, currently sit second overall and have secured their first South African Conference title.
After starting the season with two wins and four losses, the Jaguares have won eight of their last nine matches including an outstanding Australasian tour where they defeated the Hurricanes, Waratahs and Reds.
With their remaining match against the Sunwolves at home, and exceptional form, the Argentinians are in prime position to claim secure the second overall seed and with it earn two home finals and a potential home grand final should the Crusaders falter along the way. Should they lose they open the door for the Brumbies to snatch the second seed.
Best possible finish: 2nd, 51 points
Worst possible finish: 3rd, 46 points
Predicted finish: 2nd, 51 points
9-0-6, 43 points, +51 PD
Round 18 opponent: Reds (H)
After an up-and-down start to the season, the Brumbies have won seven of their last eight to wrestle the Australian Conference title away from the Rebels. They may not be the flashiest team in the competition, but they are as fundamentally sound as any other, with a strong identity and smart players who know their roles and fulfil them expertly.
While the Brumbies may not have necessarily screamed title contenders throughout 2019, they are not to be underestimated. Undefeated at home since losing to the Rebels in Round 1, this team can most certainly hold their own against all comers when playing at GIO Stadium.
With their win over the Waratahs and the Rebels’ big loss to the Crusaders in Round 17, the Brumbies secured the Australian Conference and will finish third or second depending on the outcome of their fixture against the Reds and the Jaguares’ match against the Sunwolves.
If the Jaguares win, the Brumbies will finish third no matter what, however if the South Americans lose, the door is thrown wide open for the Brumbies to snatch the second seed and an additional home final.
Best possible finish: 2nd, 48 points
Worst possible finish: 3rd, 43 points
Predicted finish: 3rd, 47 points
11-1-3, 44 points, +82 PD
Round 18 opponent: Blues (Home)
In a season where New Zealand’s stranglehold on the competition has somewhat loosened with the Chiefs and Highlanders both regressing, the Hurricanes have maintained their excellence. They have accumulated the second most competition points and will be expecting to make a challenge for the title, however will have to do it from the fourth seed because of the convoluted competition structure.
While the Hurricanes have a superb knack for winning close games, with five of their 11 wins having margins of six or less, they may come to lament an inability to put teams away, finishing with only three bonus points.
With a game in hand over the Crusaders, a win against the Blues at home this week would see them finish with a league-high 12 wins, edging out the Crusaders who have 11. However, the Cantabrians’ eight bonus points put them well out of the Canes’ reach.
The biggest issue for the Wellington side ahead of the finals is the recent lack of competitiveness, let alone success, against the Crusaders. The table-toppers easily handled the Canes in their last four meetings, including both matches this season and last year’s semi-final.
Should both progress to the semi-finals they will face each other again in Christchurch, where the Hurricanes have not won since July 2016.
Best possible finish: 4th, 54 points
Worst possible finish: 4th, 49 points
Predicted finish: 4th, 54 points
7-2-6, 36 points, 20 PD
Round 18 opponent: Lions (H)
The Bulls have managed to position themselves as the best of the rest as both records and form drop significantly from fourth to fifth. They traded wins and losses between Rounds 4 and 15 before going on to draw both of their matches in New Zealand.
The Bulls have secured their place in this year’s finals series, however their final position is far from certain. In an excellent piece of scheduling, four of the Round 18 fixtures will pit teams five through 12 against one another, setting up a number of do-or-die clashes.
For the Bulls, the equation is simple, beat the Lions at home and retain the fifth spot. The reward? An away quarter-final against the Hurricanes.
If they lose, they can fall as far as eighth. The only way this happens is if:
– Bulls lose to the Lions
– Rebels defeat the Chiefs at home
– Chiefs defeat Rebels with a bonus point and the combined winning/losing margin for Chiefs/Bulls exceeds 85 points
Best possible finish: 5th, 41 points
Worst possible finish: 8th, 36 points
Predicted finish: 5th, 40 points
8-0-7, 35 points, -56 PD
Round 18 opponent: Bulls (A)
For the past three seasons, the Lions have dominated the South African conference. Unfortunately, their reward has been three straight grand final defeats. 2019 has seen the Lions drop back to the pack somewhat, however they remain very much in the thick of things with a round remaining.
The Lions’ loss to the Hurricanes in Round 17 ended their South African Conference title hopes and has put them at risk of missing out on finals altogether. If the Lions can defeat the Bulls in Pretoria, they are safe and will finish fifth.
If they lose, however, they are likely to drop to eighth, and at worst ninth if the following occurs:
– Lions lose to the Bulls without a bonus point
– Highlanders defeat Waratahs at home with a bonus point
– Rebels defeat the Chiefs
– Chiefs defeat Rebels with a bonus point
Given the Lions have eight wins they would win any tiebreaker between them, the Chiefs, Highlanders and Waratahs who are on six, five and six wins respectively. The Bulls salvaging a draw against the Highlanders in the 75th minute last week may have saved the Lions’ season.
Best possible finish: 5th, 40 points
Worst possible finish: 9th, 35 points
Predicted finish: 8th, 36 points
7-1-7, 34 points, -19 PD
Round 18 opponent: Sharks (H)
The Stormers, much like the Bulls and Lions above them, have had a season marked with inconsistency. The Stormers haven’t won two games in a row since Round 5 and have only won two away all season, one being to the Sharks in South Africa.
Given they will be required to win three games in a row on the road to hoist the trophy, contention is a tall order for this squad. Nonetheless, they have an excellent chance to secure the sixth spot this weekend with a win over the Sharks at home. Unless the Lions versus Bulls ends in a draw, the fifth seed is out of their reach.
The fifth seed will fly to Wellington to face the Hurricanes, the sixth to Canberra to face the Brumbies. While the Hurricanes are an obviously formidable team, the Brumbies are no slouches and did dispatch the Stormers in the Republic earlier this year. They haven’t lost at home since Round 1, so any belief in that being the easier path is, in all likelihood, erroneous.
Should the Stormers lose, they will fall out of the playoffs entirely, with the Sharks and the winners of the Rebels versus Chiefs and Waratahs versus Highlanders all leapfrogging them.
There are some very curly scenarios where the Stormers finish in seventh or eighth, but these require unlikely combinations of draws and bonus point wins to occur. For instance, if both the Stormers versus Bulls and Chiefs versus Rebels end in draws, the Stormers will finish seventh, however if the Chiefs defeat the Rebels by 85 points, the Stormers would then finish in eighth.
In reality this fixture is a do-or-die clash for the Stormers.
Best possible finish: 5th, 39 points
Worst possible finish: 11th, 34 points
Predicted finish: 6th, 38 points
7-0-8, 34 points, -21 PD
Round 18 opponent: Chiefs (H)
After starting the season 5-2, including two impressive wins over the Brumbies and another over the Highlanders, the Rebels have since gone 2-6 and relinquished the Australian Conference title and any promise the season once held.
It is easy to imagine David Wessels and his staff analysing the schedule and quickly identifying they needed a strong start to the season and ideally to have secured their finals spot prior to facing the Crusaders and Chiefs in the final two rounds. Unfortunately, their late-season collapse, with their only recent wins coming over the Sunwolves and Reds and last week’s thrashing at the hands of the Crusaders, has left them needing to beat the Chiefs to play finals footy.
Should they beat the Chiefs at home, they would finish in sixth, as long as the Stormers lose, if they collect a bonus point where the Stormers do not, or their winning margin is three or more points greater than that of the South Africans.
Finishing sixth would set up a fascinating battle with Australian rivals the Brumbies, a team the Rebels have beaten twice this year, and one they would fancy their chances in.
A loss at home that would likely knock the Rebels out of the finals would be a very sad end to a once promising season, and a real kick in the guts for Australian rugby that could desperately use a good story.
Best possible finish: 5th, 39 points
Worst possible finish: 11th, 34 points
Predicted finish: 10th, 34 points
6-1-8, 33 points, +5 PD
Round 18 opponent: Stormers (A)
Like the Rebels, the Sharks have limped to the finish line, winning only two of their last eight matches, although they had a victory against the Crusaders in Christchurch all but assured before surrendering a draw in the dying moments. Consequently, they must now beat the Stormers at Newlands to feature in the post-season.
A win will propel them above the Stormers and the loser of the Lions and Bulls, and should the Rebels lose to the Chiefs they could finish as high as sixth.
There is also a very slim chance they can finish fifth if the Bulls and Lions draw and they secure a bonus point win by a margin of 16 or more, although they would finish seventh if they do not secure a bonus point in this scenario as they would beat the Bulls in a tiebreaker and not the Lions.
If both the Sharks and Rebels win, the Durban side will finish in eighth place.
A loss would see them finish tenth or 11th depending on the outcome of the Chiefs versus Rebels.
Best possible finish: 5th, 38 points
Worst possible finish: 11th, 33 points
Predicted finish: 11th, 34 points
6-2-7, 31 points, -65 PD
Round 18 opponent: Rebels (A)
The Chiefs have featured in the finals every year since 2012 and only failed to register 11 wins once in that span. 2019, though, has not been a successful year.
Despite this, their season stays very much alive and they will come into this fixture full of confidence having beaten the Crusaders in Round 16. They must defeat the Rebels in Melbourne but also need some results to go their way.
If the Chiefs defeat the Rebels with a bonus point, they will finish on 36 competition points. This will put them ahead of:
– The Lions if they lose without a bonus point;
– The Bulls if they lose without a bonus point and the accumulated margin of victory for the Chiefs and defeat for the Bulls is over 85 points (unlikely);
– Whoever loses between the Stormers and Sharks, and the Sharks in the instance of a draw;
– And the winner of the Waratahs versus Highlanders.
Consequently, a bonus point win would likely do it for the Chiefs.
However, if they do not secure a bonus point, not only can they no longer surpass the Bulls or Lions, this would bring the winner of the Waratahs versus Highlanders into play. If either win with a bonus point they would pass the Chiefs on 35 points (Waratahs doing so on points difference, Highlanders on wins).
This would provide a second life to the Stormers, who would stay ahead of the Chiefs in the case of a bonus point loss or draw. If they do not collect the bonus point win, they will be relying on neither the Highlanders or Waratahs doing so.
A loss would likely see them finish 11th, however they could fall as far as 14th.
Best possible finish: 7th, 36 points
Worst possible finish: 14th, 31 points
Predicted finish: 8th, 36 points
5-3-7, 31 points, +21 PD
Round 18 opponent: Waratahs (H)
This season has had seven draws (one being a cancelled match), by comparison 2018 had one and 2017 had two. No team will rue theirs more than the Highlanders. Despite winning only five of their 15 games so far, they have a positive points differential, however in the competition today, matches won is the first tiebreaker, leaving them vulnerable.
A decent start to the season had punters expecting continued dominance from the Dunedin side, who have not missed the finals since 2013. However, close losses to the Rebels, Hurricanes (twice) and Blues derailed their season and zero wins in the last three rounds has failed to resuscitate it.
The Highlanders’ only hope to play finals this year is a bonus point win over the Waratahs followed by:
– The Lions losing with no bonus point.
– The Chiefs winning with no bonus point
In either case, the best they can do is knock either the Chiefs or Lions out of the playoffs and finish in eighth place. It isn’t as outlandish as it may seem.
Best possible finish: 8th, 36 points
Worst possible finish: 14th, 31 points
Predicted finish: 9th, 35 points
6-0-9, 30 points, -11 PD
Round 18 opponent: Highlanders (A)
The final team still holding out hope is the Waratahs. Should they somehow find themselves in the finals they may just be the least deserving finalists in the competition’s history. That said, they are one of only two teams in 2019 to defeat the Crusaders – who would be their quarter-final opponent.
The Waratahs’ only hope is to win with a bonus point and for the Chiefs to win without one. That would see the Tahs move ahead on points difference into the eighth slot.
Best possible finish: 8th, 35 points
Worst possible finish: 14th, 30 points
Predicted finish: 12th, 30 points
Highlanders (BP) def Waratahs
Chiefs (BP) def Rebels
Jaguares (BP) def Sunwolves
Hurricanes def Blues
Brumbies (BP) def Reds
Stormers def Sharks
Bulls def Lions (BP)
1. Crusaders – 58 Points
2. Jaguares – 50 Points
3. Brumbies – 47 Points
4. Hurricanes – 53 Points
5. Bulls – 40 Points
6. Stormers – 38 Points
7. Lions – 36 Points (tiebreaker over Chiefs, more wins)
8. Chiefs – 36 Points (tiebreaker over Highlanders, more wins)
9. Highlanders – 36 Points
10. Sharks – 34 Points (tiebreaker over Rebels, better PD)
11. Rebels – 34 Points
12. Waratahs – 30 Points
13. Blues – 29 Points
14. Reds – 28 Points
15. Sunwolves – 12 Points