The regular season is over, which means that the remaining 8 teams will play off in the Super Rugby quarter finals. Four games will be played to decide who goes through to the semis, with the losers all being eliminated.
The match ups are the Hurricanes and Chiefs, both from New Zealand, playing each other in Wellington on Friday night, the Canterbury Crusaders playing the South African Sharks in Christchurch and the NSW Waratahs facing the Otago Highlanders in Sydney on Saturday, while the Lions from South Africa and Argentina Jaguares meet in Johannesburg late on Saturday night.
The first match will be the hardest to tip. The Hurricanes looked set to challenge the Crusaders for the top-of-the-table spot midway through the season, but lost four of their last five games leading into the Super Rugby quarter finals. These two sides also met in Wellington in the last regular season round, with the Chiefs winning that one in a close encounter. The visitors also welcome back Damian McKenzie and Sam Cane, two of their best players, for the clash.
The Crusaders, who came first and finished the season on 63 points, are expected to thrash the Sharks, who came 8th with 36 and scraped into the Super Rugby quarter finals on for and against. They will also have to fly from Durban to Christchurch before the match, and travel fatigue could be a factor if the clash is closer than expected.
The Waratahs and Highlanders game also looks tricky to call. Both sides are loaded with attacking firepower, but are quite poor defensively. If the game turns into an attacking shoot-out the Waratahs should have the edge, with Kurtley Beale and Israel Folau in their backline, but in a grittier game the men from Dunedin probably have the edge. This could well be the most exciting match-up of the Super Rugby quarter finals.
The Jaguares and Lions is also an intriguing game. The Argentinians elected to remain in South Africa after their last regular season game against the Sharks, and they rested a number of their stars in that encounter. Travel fatigue on their part will therefore not give the Lions as big an advantage as they would hope. The result for this game really depends on which Jaguares side turns up – it would not be a surprise to see them win or lose by 20 points in the last of the Super Rugby quarter finals.