There are two big games to have a look at this weekend. The first affects the New Zealand conference and is also the first game of the weekend kicking off on Friday between the Crusaders and the Highlanders. The second is the South African clash between the Bulls and the Stormers, the last game of the weekend.
Although the Highlanders will pass the Crusaders on the log this weekend if they manage a win against the second placed New Zealand conference team and move into the top 6 it will probably not benefit any New Zealand team aside from the Chiefs who will get some breathing space from the chasing pack. If the Crusaders were to lose this match the Highlanders will indeed be back in the top six, but it may just be short lived, as they would have to win the rest of their games to remain in this spot. The main beneficiaries of this result will be the Sharks who will most probably move into the 5th spot on the log, considering that their week 15 opposition haven’t managed a win in three months and because of their weaker conference this may just be the opening the Reds will need to make the playoffs.
The New Zealand conference is still wide open. The Chiefs are looking pretty safe right now, they still have to play the Highlanders, Crusaders and Hurricanes, although they could still win all of these games, it won’t be easy and their opposition will be very motivated. The Crusaders still have to play the Highlanders, Hurricanes and Chiefs and even 1 loss here could spell trouble for them if anyone of the Highlanders, Reds and Hurricanes deliver a strong finish to the competition.
To follow this game we have the Rebels vs the Brumbies where the Brumbies should take the win and maintain their 5 point lead in the Australian log with the Reds taking the 4 from the bye. Then the Blues take on the Chiefs and no one expects anything but a walkover by the Chiefs here. The Hurricanes go to Sydney to see if they can pick up another 5 points and stay in the hunt for a playoff spot and the Sharks go to Joburg to take on the Lions in a week where 5 points could also mean two log positions for them.
The last game of the weekend will be the best one by far, with the Bulls travelling home on the back of two losses in New Zealand, hoping to get their campaign back on track against the now beatable Stormers. Chances are this won’t be a very high scoring game and whoever loses here will go away with the only bonus point of the match. It really can go either way, with the Stormers having a small edge even playing away from home, since the Bulls have the disadvantage of this being their first game back from tour.
If the Stormers do manage a win here, you have to say their chances of topping the SA conference and even the whole competition becomes very likely, as they then only have the Lions, Cheetahs and Rebels left to play. The Cheetahs and Rebels may have shown glimpses of potential this year, but I don’t think the Stormers will let these teams slip by them. This result will also mean that the Bulls will have moved from 1st place in week 13 to to 5th or even 6th in week 15 and the Sharks should take their place in 4th spot. A bonus point in a loss to the Stormers will be very important for them here, as another loss against the Sharks at Kings Park is definitely a possibility and they could then also be one of the teams in danger of being caught by the chasing three.
On the other hand if the Bulls win this match things in the South African conference will be evened out a little bit, the top three then looking like this – Bulls 52, Stormers 51 (if they get the Bonus point) and Sharks 50 (that bonus point we gave them could still be very costly). Given that we need to end up one log point higher than the Stormers or they would have to lose another game and our points difference improve 13 points on theirs , the permutations for The Sharks topping SA conference is this. Firstly a Stormers loss against the Bulls is a must, then we would have to get a bonus point from all our games (including against the Bulls) and they can only get one from all the rest of theirs (including the Bulls), otherwise if they were to be upset by the Cheetahs or Rebels, even if they got a bonus point in each game and we could manage 3 more wins, 2 with bonus points, we could still top the SA log … I still think our best bet though is 4th and a home playoff against any of the Crusaders, Bulls, Reds.
Here’s the log for the weeks to come as I am predicting it (I also have this log in PDF & spreadsheet for you to use). I have again colour coded it so that Blue is the top 6, light blue the 3 chasing teams and Red the Bottom 6, indicating the log difficulty of the game and the importance and effect on the log. The more Blue teams involved the bigger the game.
|Week 15||Week 16||Week 17||Week 18|
This is how the top 6 will then stand:
1. Chiefs 68
2. Stormers 66
3. Brumbies 64
4. Crusaders 64
5. Sharks 63
6. Bulls 59
7. Reds 57 (Just missing out)