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Super 14 set for surprising finale
Russell Barwick, ESPN Sportscenter Australia
May 11, 2009
The Bulls' Victor Matfield on the charge, Bulls v Stormers, Super 14, Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria, South Africa, March 7, 2009
Victor Matfield's Bulls are currently top of the Super 14, but will they stay there? © Getty Images
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Players/Officials: Robbie Deans | John Mitchell
Tournaments/Tours: Super 14

So finally some interest in the Super 14 matches, hallejuah. It's only taken the best part of 10 weeks to get it back.

Let's look at the scenario. Bulls lead by one point from the Chiefs, then two to the Hurricanes and two to Crusaders and Brumbies with the Sharks and Waratahs another point away. Amazingly the team on top of the ladder, the Bulls, could miss a spot in the top four. Equally teams five, six and seven could all make the semi-finals. I would say that has never happened in any competition before. It's bizarre that going into the final round of a competition which has been rather lame thus far all of a sudden it's got a heartbeat.

So what's gonna happen this week? I have no idea, but if history is anything to go by then what you read in the next few lines will be the exact opposite of what actually transpires. I am now officially the worst tipster in living history. Let's review my last lot - Sharks winning last 3 and knocking out the Tahs…gone. So, given I support NSW should I then continue to death ride them knowing full well that they may sneak in? And should I have that same attitude to the Bulls-Sharks game? I have been sent a number of text messages from supporters and players alike urging me to keep tipping against the Tahs, to ensure they make it.

Only two games are irrelevant. Force v Highlanders and Cheetahs v Stormers. The rest have something to play for. Friday night - Chiefs and the Brumbies. If ever there was a team you didn't want to play in the final game it's the Brumbies, they have been there and done it before. The Chiefs haven't. Whoever loses they have to lose by under seven because that bonus point (as much as I hate them) will be very handy. Brumbies destroyed the Blues on Saturday and their recent good form suggests they will give it a red hot go. Chiefs in a close one but Brumbies need the bonus point and a win so expect some flair.

On Saturday, Lions v Waratahs. Lions are specials. Waratahs can't win, can't score points and the Lions will end their season on a massive high by making sure the Aussies don't have a team in the finals (read above).

Then it's Blues v Crusaders. Biggest certainty of the week - Crusaders win and Blues sack their coach, Pat Lam. Very disappointing year so far for the Aucklanders as they were expected to be one of the top sides. It's how they are losing which is really weak. They have the second worst defence in the competition which means bonus point for the Crusaders.

On to Reds v Hurricanes. Now it's unlikely but they did beat the Blues, so can the Reds do the double and beat the 'Canes also? I don't see why not although the Hurricanes do travel well and have a lot to play for. The Reds are looking for a break before the Wallabies, with some players are looking to an end of season trip! Surely Hurricanes can win this and get the bonus point.

Force v Highlanders…don't bother

With Sharks v Bulls, it's ifs and buts. If we get them all right as above then the Sharks won't be able to make it and the Bulls can finish either 1st or 3rd (not 2nd and not 4th). Getting it all right is a million to one so I suggest the Sharks will win this but still miss out.

So my final four (part three) is:

CHIEFS
HURRICANES
BULLS
CRUSADERS

And given I get none of the above right which is highly likely on past form, my final four (part four) is:

BULLS
CHIEFS
BRUMBIES
WARATAHS

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I spoke to Robbie Deans recently and he seemed to have no issues (like me) with the South Africans brushing off the Super 14 after 2010. His reasons were pretty good also. Away from the argument about quality of football with South African sides in the competition he said:

"The Trans-Tasman rivalry would be more attractive than the current competition. It would also promote club rugby given the need for more players and obvious 'feeder' teams for each franchise, i.e. a 2nd tier competition. A 10 team competition would mean an 18 week home and away season with finals meaning a far better preparation for the Wallaby and All Black seasons.

"Less travel proving to be far more attractive from a cost and player perspective. Ideal chances for franchises to market season ticket holder for minimum nine games per year rather than the six home games currently."

Hard to argue with any of that isn't it?

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The one thing that has pleased me this season is the lack of "which coach will be sacked" talk that plagues us about this time every year, but lo' and behold I read today that Chris Hickey is in the firing line. The NSW man has only been in the job for 6 months and already they are giving him the spear…World's toughest job.

I think the coaches who are under the most pressure locally are John Mitchell and Pat Lam. Big things were expected of both and both have disappointed yet again. The Force players are leaving en masse and they will find life very difficult next year while the Blues have been the biggest disappointment this season. Many may say injuries have hurt their season but the facts are they have the worst defensive record of all the Kiwi teams averaging 30 points a game scored against them. In fact they are more than 100 points worse than the next Kiwi team the Hurricanes and almost 170 points worst than the Crusaders.

© Scrum.com
Russell Barwick is a presenter for ESPN Sportscenter in Australia
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