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Road to the play-offs: Mad dash

Tue, 02 Jul 2013 06:35
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The teams in the positions of power
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With two rounds of league action remaining, three teams have already booked their places in the Super Rugby play-offs.

There will be a mad scramble for the three remaining spots.

The defending champion Chiefs, who returned to the top of the Super Rugby standings with a bonus-point 34-22 win in an all-New Zealand derby against the Hurricanes, is one of the three already secured of a top-six finish - even though they are not guaranteed of first place in the Kiwi conference.

Only three teams can overtake them, including the Crusaders, whom they play in a decisive match in Christchurch this coming Friday.

For the Crusaders to overtake them, the Chiefs must fail to collect another point in the last two rounds (they face the Blues in Auckland next week) and then the Crusaders must get a full-house - two bonus-point victories. In that case they will be level on 61 points on the standings, with the same number of matches won (the first criteria for separation) and points difference set to favour the Crusaders.

The Bulls, who have won the last of their three Super Rugby crowns in 2010, were also bonus-point winners - a six-try (48-18) romp over the tournament rookies and fellow South Africans, the Southern Kings.

The win, combined with the Cheetahs' loss to the Stormers, saw the Bulls wrap up the SA conference and move into second place on the global standings. They will keep a keen eye on developments in Christchurch on Friday, because a Crusaders win will open the door for the Bulls to go first (a position that has many benefits, least off all home ground advantage in all play-off matches).

Not that victory is a given for the Bulls, who face the Sharks (in Pretoria) and Stormers (in Cape Town) - two powerful, but under-performing outfits - in their remaining league matches.

The Brumbies wrapped up the Australian conference before the June break, but with just one match remaining - against the Western Force in the final week - they need both the Bulls and Chiefs to slip badly to secure first place on the global standings. However, at worst they will finish third.

These are the teams in the positions of power - with the Bulls and Brumbies ensured of top three finishes, the Chiefs can finish anywhere from first to fourth and the Crusaders can finish anywhere from first to eighth.

Other teams still in with a shout of a top six finish, some with mere mathematical chances and reliant on the outcome of other fixtures, include the Reds, Cheetahs, Blues, Sharks and Stormers.

Of these the Reds, who play the Waratahs in their final match, have the best chance. They require a solitary point from their visit to Sydney to book a play-off spot.

The Blues, who had their play-off hopes severely dented by their last-minute 20-22 loss to the Sharks in Durban, will also have a major role to play - as they can cause problems for the Cheetahs (whom they play in Bloemfontein this week) and the Chiefs (whom they face in Auckland next week).

And the Aussie sides won't return to the fray till next week, as a result of the British and Irish Lions tour, with this week's Aussie byes not carrying any points. In fact the Cheetahs, who will sit out the final round of league action, are the only team still set to get 'bye points'.

The top two finishers dodge the first play-off phase and secure home semifinals. The team finishing third will host the team finishing sixth in the 'preliminary play-offs', while the fourth-placed team will host No.5 on the standings.

In the semifinals the top-ranked team will host the team with the lowest play-off ranking, while the second-placed team on the standings will be at home to the winner from the prelim-play-offs with the highest ranking.

The two winners from this will meet in the Final, with the highest ranked team getting home-ground advantage.

The other certainty is that the Kings will play in a promotion-relegation series against the Lions - whom they replaced this year - at the end of the month. That, in itself, will provide enormous entertainment value.

Jan de Koning takes a look at what awaits us in the last two rounds, before the play-offs!

Chiefs
Current position: First
Best possible finish: First
Worst possible finish: Fourth
Remaining fixtures:
The Crusaders in Christchurch
The Blues in Auckland

Bulls
Current position: Second
Best possible finish: First
Worst possible finish: Third
Remaining fixtures:
The Sharks in Pretoria
The Stormers in Cape Town

Brumbies
Current position: Third
Best possible finish: First
Worst possible finish: Third
Remaining fixtures:
Bye (not a points scoring bye)
The Force in Perth

Reds
Current position:
Fourth
Best possible finish: Fourth
Worst possible finish: Seventh
Remaining fixtures:
Bye (not a points scoring bye)
The Waratahs in Sydney

Crusaders
Current position: Fifth
Best possible finish: First
Worst possible finish: Eighth
Remaining fixtures:
The Chiefs in Christchurch
The Hurricanes in Christchurch

Cheetahs
Current position: Sixth
Best possible finish: Fourth
Worst possible finish: 11th
Remaining fixtures:
The Blues in Bloemfontein
Bye (worth four points)

Waratahs
Current position: Seventh
Best possible finish: Seventh
Worst possible finish: 12th
Remaining fixtures:
Bye (not a points scoring bye)
The Reds in Sydney

Blues
Current position: Eighth
Best possible finish: Fourth
Worst possible finish: 12th
Remaining fixtures:
The Cheetahs in Bloemfontein
The Chiefs in Auckland

Sharks
Current position: Ninth
Best possible finish: Fifth
Worst possible finish: 12th
Remaining fixtures:
The Bulls in Pretoria
The Kings in Durban

Stormers
Current position: 10th
Best possible finish: Fifth
Worst possible finish: 12th
Remaining fixtures:
The Kings in Port Elizabeth
The Bulls in Cape Town

Hurricanes
Current position: 11th
Best possible finish: Seventh
Worst possible finish: 11th
Remaining fixtures:
The Highlanders in Wellington
The Crusaders in Christchurch

Rebels
Current position: 12th
Best possible finish: 12th
Worst possible finish: 14th
Remaining fixtures:
Bye (not a points scoring bye)
The Highlanders in Melbourne

Force
Current position: 13th
Best possible finish: 12th
Worst possible finish: 15th
Remaining fixtures:
Bye (not a points scoring bye)
The Brumbies in Perth

Kings
Current position: 14th
Best possible finish: 12th
Worst possible finish: 15th
Remaining fixtures:
The Stormers in Port Elizabeth
The Sharks in Durban

Highlanders
Current position: 15th
Best possible finish: 12th
Worst possible finish: 15th
Remaining fixtures:
The Hurricanes in Wellington
The Rebels in Melbourne

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