There is one round to go before the finals and as matters presently stand the Super Rugby table looks like this:
Given that the Cheetahs have a bye in round 20 they are guaranteed of a spot in the finals and thus all other of the other teams not already in the top 6 are simply playing for pride this week. That said they make up of the final six is by no means final and there are a number of fixtures that could have a large impact who is playing whom in the first week. Those games are:
Crusaders v Hurricanes
Blues v Chiefs
Waratahs v Reds
Force v Brumbies
Stormers v Bulls
Obviously at this juncture it is important to reflect on how the qualification process for the finals works in Super Rugby. Rule 3.5.2 of the Tournament rules provides:
Six teams will qualify for the Finals Series at the conclusion of the Regular Season as follows:
a) Conference Winners: the team in each of the AC, NZC and SAC with the highest number of competition points will be the Conference Winner for the respective Conference and will qualify for the Finals Series.
The three Conference Winners will receive a Finals Series Ranking as follows:
(i) The team with the highest number of competition points will have a Finals Series Ranking of 1;
(ii)The team with the second highest number of competition points will have a Finals Series Ranking of 2;
(iii) The team with the third highest number of competition points will have a Finals Series Ranking of 3.
b) Wildcard Teams: the remaining three Finals Series places will be allocated to the three non-Conference Winning teams with the highest number of Super Rugby table competition points regardless of the Conference in which the team plays. The three Wildcard Teams will receive a Finals Series Ranking as follows:
(i) The team with the highest number of competition points will have a Finals Series Ranking of 4;
(ii)The team with the second highest number of competition points will have a Finals Series Ranking of 5;
(iii) The team with the third highest number of competition points will have a Finals Series Ranking of 6.
With so many games having any impact on the ultimate positions of those teams in the top six, it is impossible to forecast all of the available permeations. I know this because I put my meagre skills in excel to the task of running such a model and failed dismally. That said: there are some outcomes that it is quite simple to map:
• The Cheetahs will definitely be travelling next week. They will end up on 54 points with a points differential of plus 24. The best they can finish is 5th which will occur if the Reds loose to the Waratahs and do not pick up a bonus point. If the Reds draw or win or lose but secure a bonus point the Cheetahs will finish 6th.
• A loss for the Reds will see them finish 6th on the table. A bonus point loss or a draw will see the Reds finish 5th regardless of the result of the Crusaders game against the Hurricanes. For the Reds to end up finishing 4th and hosting one of the qualifying finals next week they need, simply, the Crusaders to loose and for them to win. If the Crusaders win against the Hurricanes they will end up 5th in any non-loss scenario.
• The Crusaders, at this stage, have at least 5th place locked up and they will only end up there if the Reds win and they lose. A Crusaders draw or win against the Hurricanes will lock up 4th spot at least. The plight of the Crusaders, however, gets very interesting if they win against the Hurricanes with a bonus point. This result would place them above the Chiefs for the NZ conference on for and against. Thus if the Chiefs fail to get any points against the Blues there is a possibility that the Crusaders could win the conference.
• The Brumbies locked up the Australian conference some weeks ago. Even if they were to loose without a bonus point, the Reds would need to defeat the Waratahs by at least 100 points to jump them on the table. In play though for the Brumbies is the prospect of having the first week of the finals off: that scenario could arise if either of the Chiefs or Bulls loose and the Brumbies win. Indeed, there is a possibility that the Brumbies could end up with home field advantage throughout the finals if both of the Bulls and the Chiefs loose.
• The Chiefs only need to secure a point from their fixture against the Blues to secure the New Zealand conference. As I have noted above there is a mathematical chance that the Crusaders could jump over them and take the New Zealand conference. If the Chiefs were to loose but gain a bonus point or were to draw against the Blues there is a prospect that they could finish 3rd and thus have to play in a qualifying final next week if the Brumbies were to win. Of course, there is also the prospect that the Chiefs could finish the top of the table if they win and the Bulls loose.
• The Bulls presently lead the competition and are in the box seat for home ground advantage for the whole of the finals. That said, they still could finish 3rd overall and have to play in the first week of the finals if they loose to the Stormers and do not secure a bonus point and both the Chiefs and the Brumbies win. If the Bulls win however, or draw and the Chiefs win by fail to garner a bonus point, the Bulls will finish atop the ladder. Of course the other scenario that presents itself here is that the Chiefs win but the Bulls loose. In that scenario the Chiefs would go top and the Bulls would end up 2nd.
All in all, these permeations set up for a fascinating last round of Super Rugby this season.
So once all of the final rankings are determined, what happens in the finals? Rule 3.6 of the Tournament rules is instructive and provides that the teams for the week 1 qualifiers will be determined as follows:
Match A – Rank 4 v Rank 5
Match B – Rank 3 v Rank 6
The higher ranking team will receive home ground advantage which is why the Cheetahs only have the prospect of travelling in week 1 of the finals. As matters stand presently any of the conference winning teams could end up hosting a final in final’s week one and either of the Crusaders or the Reds could have the opportunity to host the other finals.
Is anyone else excited about the week of Super Rugby that awaits us?