As the Super 14 nears the end of the round robin, there are still nine teams who could claim the four semi final spots on offer. But who stands the best chance of claiming those spots and who has left their run too late? Today Hamish McBrearty takes a look at the chances of the top four keeping their spots.
The Crusaders, like almost everyone else, have four games remaining and have a six point lead at the top of the table, but they also have a tough run home, particularly with star Dan Carter still injured.. The Blues and Sharks will provide stiff opposition in games which have a major bearing on playoff implications, followed by games against the Reds and Highlanders which they should win, and those final games should see the Crusaders finish no worse than second.
Sitting below the Crusaders are the stumbling Sharks who started the season win seven wins on the trot, but since starting their long tour of Australasia have managed a draw, a win and a loss. Their final four games are among the toughest of all the contenders, facing fellow hopefuls the Waratahs, Crusaders and Chiefs as well as the cellar dwelling Cheetahs. Given the draw the Sharks have this season, a strong start was a must for them, but they need to pull of a win over at least one other contender and pick up a good win over the Cheetahs if they are to advance.
Momentum is very important at this stage of the season and the Waratahs have plenty, riding a four game win streak and winning six of their last seven outings. However, they are yet to make the long trip to South Africa where they must face the fourth placed Stormers as well as the resurgent Bulls, before finishing their season in Brisbane against arch rivals, the Reds.
A win over the Sharks this weekend would go a long way to cementing the Waratahs a place in the top, but they will need at least one more if they are to hold off the chasing pack.
After starting the season with three losses, most had written off the Stormers, but picking up five wins from their next six games has them in the top four and with three home games in a row, the men from Cape Town could well be looking at a home semi final. Not only do they have three out of their four remaining games at home, but two of their opponents have managed just one win each.
With just three points separating fourth from ninth, the chasing pack could easily steal a spot from one of the top four, making some clashes in the remaining four weeks crucial. Tomorrow I examine the chances of that chasing pack, who will vault their way into the semi finals and who needs more than a little luck to keep their season alive.