Before the start of Super Rugby round 18 only the Crusaders and Hurricanes are mathematical certainties of playing finals football – everyone else is within 2 bonus point wins of 9th spot and needs at least one win in order to secure a top 8 spot. So who will look to make a move over the weekend?
Super Rugby round 18 kicks off tonight with the table-topping Crusaders welcoming the Highlanders to Christchurch. The Crusaders are nine points clear of the Hurricanes at the top of the New Zealand conference and cannot be caught by either the Waratahs or Lions, so they really only need a single bonus point in the next two weeks to claim the minor premiership. The Highlanders, on the other hand, will be hungry. That said, the Crusaders class should get them over the line at home.
The next game will be between a Rebels team desperate to secure a finals place and the Reds with nothing to play for in Brisbane. At home Queenslander pride will have the Reds fired up, and with their monster forward pack they can be a banana skin for any team. The Rebels, however, have a strong pack as well and should have too much class.
On Saturday afternoon the Brumbies will fight to keep their hopes alive against the Chiefs. The Chiefs are on fire at the moment and should extinguish Canberra’s faint finals hopes. This will be followed by the Hurricanes and Blues in Wellington, where the locals will try and wrest back momentum for the finals – and probably succeed.
Saturday evening will see the Waratahs in Sydney trying to wrap up top spot in the Australian conference against the Sunwolves. A win (or even a draw) will also put them in second place overall (the Lions have a bye this week) and give the New South Welshmen a chance to secure a home semi-final if they make it through the first round.
Over in South Africa the Jaguares travel to Loftus to face the Bulls, and should win. Given the team is virtually the Pumas they have played a lot of rugby in the last month and might be starting to fatigue. They should still beat the Bulls though, with the win putting them in first place in the South African conference.
The final match of Super Rugby round 18 will be the Stormers (who are out) against the Sharks (who are in ninth and chasing the Rebels). Anywhere other than Cape Town the Sharks would be near certainties, but the Stormers are a very difficult side to face at home, and might just ruin the Sharks finals chances.