The final week of the regular season 2012 Super XV Rugby tournament kicks off this weekend with plenty of teams still in the hunt. Every team in contention needs a bonus point victory to either secure their spot from those beneath them on the ladder, or to give themselves every chance of making it through to the play offs.
The competition format makes it a little confusing, but basically the two highest placed sides will get a week off in the first round of the finals, and the highest placed sides also get home ground advantage. There are also winners from each conference who go through to the finals, regardless of where they finish in the overall standings. But it is only the top two sides overall that get the week off.
The way the points stack up right now, the only teams in contention for the top two spots are the Chiefs(63), and Stormers(62). The Brumbies(58) could equal the Chiefs if the (the Brumbies) secure a bonus point win over the Blues in Canberra, and the Chiefs lose to the Hurricanes in Wellington without getting any bonus points. However because the Chiefs have more wins, they will maintain second place on the table.
The Stormers can still leap frog the Chiefs and win the minor premiership. If the Chiefs lose their game without a bonus point, the door will be open for the Stormers to move ahead with either a win, or even a single bonus point from a loss to the Rebels, which will give both sides 63 points, but put the Stormers ahead with more wins. If the Chiefs win without a bonus point, the Stormers will need to win with a bonus point themselves in order to tie with the Chiefs and take over the top spot on season wins.
Should the Chiefs win with a bonus point, they will secure first place. In which case the battle for second will be between the Stormers, who can seal it with a non-bonus point victory, and the Brumbies, who could overtake the Stormers, provided they (the Brumbies) win with a bonus point, and the Stormers lose without a bonus point.
The fight for third goes all the way down to the Hurricanes in eighth place, who sit on 53 points with the Reds, who have one more win then the Canes. Should the Reds get to 58 with a bonus point win, and the Brumbies fall to the Blues without a bonus point, then the Reds fly up to the top of the Aussie conference, as their number of wins would push them ahead of the Brumbies.
But in reality the Hurricanes have little chance of making it through the to the wild card placings. In order for that to happen they will need all the sides above them to lose without securing a bonus point. The match ups this weekend favour the stronger teams, with the Sharks and Bulls both playing the weakest South African teams.
The Bulls and Sharks both sit on 54 points with 9 wins, 6 losses and 10 bonus points each. With bonus point wins well and truly on the cards for both sides, there will be a log jam on 59 with for and against deciding the standings.
With so many possible outcomes it's not really worth trying to nut out the most likely scenario for the first round of the sudden death playoffs right now. What is certain is that with so many sides still in contention, that there will be some excellent rugby played this weekend, despite the obvious mismatches.
Here are some of the predictions we've made for the weekend…
Hurricanes v Chiefs – Chiefs win without a bonus point.
Brumbies v Blues – Non-bonus point win to the Brumbies
Crusaders v Force – Bonus point win to the Crusaders
Reds v Warratahs – Bonus point win to the Reds
Stormers – Rebels – Stormers to win with a bonus point
Sharks v Cheetahs – Bonus point win to the Sharks
Bull v Lions – Bonus point win to the Bulls
Author: Tim Cronin