With just one round of the regular season remaining, the Super Rugby Pacific playoff picture is becoming clearer – but there’s still plenty to play for.
The Chiefs have clinched their top spot on the competition table and the Waratahs can’t budge from their sixth position, but every other post-season seeding is still up for grabs, including a five-team scramble for the final two places.
Here’s how the NZ teams line up for the sprint to the finish:
This week: beat Brumbies 31-21
Next week: v Force at Perth, Sunday
Victory over the top Aussies means no-one can catch the highflying Hamiltonians, who still only have one blot on their record this season.
They won’t want to limp into the post-season with a loss, but there’s absolutely no reason for coach Clayton McMillan to risk any of his stars against the Force, so this week’s team-naming will be interesting.
This week: beat Waratahs 42-18
Last week: v Hurricanes at Wellington, Saturday
Back-to-back Brumbies losses appears to have handed the six-time defending champions home advantage through the semi-finals, but they’re not quite home and hosed yet.
Third-placed Blues are still within a bonus-point win and 33 points differential, if the Crusaders stumble badly this weekend – and the Aucklanders beat the Highlanders by 40, when they last met.
By the time they take the field on Saturday evening, the southerners will at least know where they stand in relation to the Blues, who play Friday.
This week: beat Hurricanes 36-25
Last week: v Highlanders at Auckland, Friday
The Aucklanders can still lose their home quarter-final, if they trip up against the desperate Highlanders, and the Brumbies and Hurricanes pull off bonus-point wins.
They could also snatch a presumptive home semi, with a big bonus-point win and big Crusaders loss.
As the first game of the weekend, they’ll be flying blind – they will be the first to name their playing line-up and will have to decide whether to risk their guns, or put out a second-string team and let the cards fall where they may.
One thing is certain – their opponents won’t be holding anything back.
This week: lost to Blues 36-25
Next week: v Crusaders at Wellington, Saturday
Their Chiefs-Blues-Crusaders finish to the regular season was always going to be challenging and losing to the Blues was a crippling setback for their hopes of a home playoff.
Now, the Wellingtonians must throw everything at the defending champions, and hope the Blues or Brumbies capitulate to resurrect their fortunes.
Then again, this was why coach Jason Holland rested his studs against the Chiefs – so they would be firing on all cylinders down the stretch.
This week: beat Reds 35-30
Next week: v Blues at Auckland, Friday
A last-ditch win over the Reds, along with a surprise defeat to Western Force, has catapulted the Highlanders into the playoff cut – for now – with a tough road game to close out their regular season.
The Force, Fijian Drua and Melbourne Rebels can still squeeze past to deny them, and probably the Drua have the kindest draw to achieve that, hosting the Reds at Lautoka.
The Force host top-of-the-table Chiefs, while the Rebels visit Aussies frontrunners Brumbies, although both those opponents may choose not to risk their guns at this stage of the season.
If the Drua can beat the Reds, the Highlanders could still sneak into seventh, with victory over the Blues.
Join Newshub next weekend for live updates of the Super Rugby Pacific final round