A much improved effort from the Australian Super Rugby teams sees all four of them still in contention for a spot in the finals this year. In the 15 team competition the three conference winners will make up 1-3 on the ladder, with the next 5 highest scoring teams also playing in the finals.
At the moment on a combined ladder the Rebels, Waratahs and Brumbies are all in the 8. The Reds, the bottom ranked Australian team, are 10th. The Australian teams all have an extra 1-2 games to play than the South African teams, as do most of the New Zealanders.
The South African conference looks by far the weakest thus far, with the Lions topping the overall table largely through a lack of competition. In fact, there is a very real chance that the finals could feature the Lions in 1st place and no other African teams in the 8!
Despite the Sunwolves being the weakest team overall, the Australian sides are all very even points wise. The New Zealand conference is, as expected, the toughest.
Currently the top 6 teams can probably be reasonably confident of playing in the super rugby finals, with the final two spots looking like being a contest between the teams ranked 7-11.
The top six are those teams with between 25 and 19 points, while there is a significant drop off to the next tier. The Highlanders, Brumbies and Sharks all have 14 competition points, while the Reds and Stormers have 13.
While the Australian teams will probably have a less successful second half to the season, as there are lots of games against NZ sides, they may well have enough games in hand to hold off the South Africans. While it is unlikely that both the Reds and Brumbies will scrape into the finals, this is a possibility.
The most likely makeup of the finals nationality wise will be 4 NZ teams, 3 Australian and one South African. There could also be an extra SA team, but this would require the Sharks or Stormers to really step up.
If the Australians perform above expectations then the attritional NZ conference could even allow both the Reds and Brumbies to sneak into the finals – the Waratahs vs Highlanders game in Sydney could be a big factor here.
I still believe that the Waratahs are the strongest Australian team, and the most likely to win against the New Zealanders. Playing against the two weakest Kiwi teams in Sydney will give them a big advantage in this regard. Still, even if the road gets considerably rockier from here, we are still likely to have at least 3 teams in the Super Rugby finals – and based on last year’s performance, that is a big achievement.