Play-off race set to go all the way
June 11, 2011
Can Dan Carter steer the Crusaders to a second place finish and a home semi-final? © Getty Images
The Super Rugby play-off picture is almost complete following the penultimate round of the regular season but the exact line-up for the new-look post-season will not be known until after next weekend's final games.
The Reds' last-gasp 24-21 victory over the Western Force and the results of their immediate rivals guaranteed them a home semi-final and a week off when the extended finals format kicks off at the end of the month. Joining them in the post-season will be the second-placed Stormers but their 19-16 home defeat at the hands of the Bulls means they are far from assured of home advantage in the final four or a week to re-group.
Also in the mix for second place in the table are the Crusaders (also assured of post-season action), the Blues and the Bulls who could all yet claim the runners-up spot and the associated benefits should results go their way - although the latter's chance for that at least appear remote due to their points differential.
The Sharks are currently in possession of the other play-off place - the third wildcard spot - and although on the same amount of points as the Bulls, cannot dream of a home sem-final due to their inferior amount of victories during the season. The Waratahs will still have an eye on the top six after their impressive 33-7 win against the Highlanders that leaves them within a chance of forcing their way into the play-off picture. That results means they still have the Sharks, Blues, Bulls and even Crusaders in their sights although they would need a big bonus-point win and a fair amount of luck elsewhere to climb to third from their current seventh place in the table.
The Stormers may well be favourites to cement second spot going into a fascinating final round of action but face a tough trip to Bloemfontein to tackle the Cheetahs who they only narrowly accounted for earlier in the season. Hot on their heels will be the Crusaders who can look forward to a home tie against a troubled Hurricanes outfit. The Blues host the Highlanders in their final regular season outing while perhaps the most intriguing clash will see the Bulls welcome the Sharks to Loftus Versfeld.
The in-form Waratahs will also be on home soil in Sydney for their clash with the Brumbies and their result will be known before the pivotal clash in Pretoria kicks off. The Stormers' meeting with the Cheetahs is the last encounter of the weekend ensuring the play-off picture will not be complete until the final whistle of the final game.
Click here for the final round of fixtures
Click here for the current overall Super Rugby standings and the format of the play-offs
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Huw Richards profiles French forward Walter Spanghero, a man who even rugby's hard men thought was a tough nut
"To be part of the Commonwealth Games, I'd wear anything. I'd wear a clown suit." Tom Hamilton talks to Scotland's Sean Lamont
Scrum Sevens looks back at how rugby has fared in both the early Olympics and the past four Commonwealth Games
"Cheika's been phenomenal. He gives you an incredible level of mental strength." Tom Hamilton talks to Waratahs star Jacques Potgieter