The Bulls will be at home to the Crusaders in one semifinal and the Chiefs will host the Hurricanes in the other with three New Zealand teams making the Super 14 playoffs after the dust settled from a dramatic final round of action.
The Hamilton semifinal will be on Friday night at 7.35pm (NZ Time) and the Pretoria playoff will be on Saturday (local time) although a kickoff time has yet to be confirmed.
Duncan Johnstone writes for Rugbyheaven NZ that The make-up of the top four was in the balance right till the final whistle of the final match with the Bulls sneaking past the Sharks 27-26 in Durban for a vital win that saw them finish top of the table.
In the end the four teams that entered the final round with their foot in the door all recorded tense wins to go through in contrasting styles and hold their positions.
The Chiefs opened the action on Friday night with their gritty 10-7 win over the Brumbies.
The Crusaders needed some late heroics from departing veteran Leon MacDonald to get past the Blues 15-13 at Eden Park on Saturday night.
Then Hurricanes made sure of their spot a couple of hours later with a bonus point 37-28 win over the Reds in Brisbane.
And then the Bulls did the business in Durban, killing off the Sharks’ hopes with their one point win that was enough for them to leapfrog the Chiefs and snatch the all-important No 1 spot that will ensure them home advantage.
But they have a worrying few days ahead after key players Bakkies Botha and JP Nell were cited and must front a Sanzar judiciary on Tuesday.
The final points in the top four were: Bulls 46, Chiefs 45, Hurricanes 44, Crusaders 41.
The Crusaders edged the Waratahs on points differential to hold on to fourth place and deny any Australian presence in the playoffs.
The Chiefs’ inability to get a bonus point out of their tense struggle with the Brumbies on Friday night ultimately cost them the top spot.
But they are delighted to still have home advantage for their semifinal although it is a demanding affair, being a rematch of last week’s clash in Hamilton that saw the Chiefs hold out the Hurricanes 16-13.
It will be fascinating to see if they can again out-think and out-muscle the Hurricanes whose attack clicked into gear again in Brisbane.
The Crusaders hopes of defending their title are very much alive although they must hop on a plane to South Africa for the daunting assignment of trying to topple the Bulls in Pretoria.
But all in all it represents a fine and satisfying return from the New Zealand sides and reflective of the country’s dominance of the tournament down the years.
The Chiefs and Crusaders both overcame sloppy starts to their campaigns to make the playoffs, the Chiefs getting there for just the second time and claiming a historic first home semifinal.
The Crusaders, of course, are no strangers to the playoffs after dominating the 13 previous seasons of Super rugby.
The Hurricanes have been regular playoffs participants in recent years without ever snaring the silverware.
And the Bulls remain the only South African side to have claimed a title and will fancy their chances again now that they know they will be operating at their beloved Loftus.
The Bulls finished with 10 wins, the most in the championship from the 13 rounds and one more than the Chiefs and Hurricanes.
The two other New Zealand teams finished well down the tight table in the finish, the Blues ending up ninth and the Highlanders 11th.Tweet