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Super Rugby – Conclusions from week nine – Part One

Hurricane, starts with much promise, but ends in disaster!

Seeing that we are currently at the halfway stage of this year’s Super Rugby Championship, I decided to alter this feature a bit. Instead of listing random thoughts following the weekend’s matches, I will discuss each team’s current situation and their prospects for the rest of the season in the order of how they are placed in the overall log.Another good weekend for South Africa coupled with an even better one for New Zealand, but the less said about the Aussie conference, the better.

First up, the Chiefs. The men from Waikato have been silently stating their claim over the past nine weeks. Everybody have talked up the Stormers, the Highlanders, the Reds, Crusaders and the Bulls also enjoyed some special attention due to their surprising run thus far. The Chiefs currently boast a similar win ratio to the Stormers, but they haven’t lost a match since their opening match against the Highlanders.

Their current streak of seven victories in a row can be increased to nine given that their next two matches will be at home against the Hurricanes and the Lions, followed by the Reds in Brisbane and the Bulls at home. The latter two matches will define their tournament. If they manage to win both they’ll surely be on a roll that will see them topping the log after 16 matches. Defeats will bring the Crusaders and Highlanders close and the NZ conference will become a nice scrap after the June tests.
Second overall and number one in the SA conference is the Stormers. Unrelenting defense and not a lot of flashy stuff have been the best way to describe the Stormers for the past three seasons now. So far their only defeat was last week to the Crusaders in Christchurch and they look set for three from four return on their tour. I’m sure that the men from Cape Town will be pleased with their performance and they’ll go home after their match in Perth next week feeling that the job is done.

However, they will be in their fifth week on tour and even the lowly inadequately named Force can be an obstacle if they don’t pitch for that one. The latest bunch of injuries will also test their nerve. At the moment it looks as if captaincy will be a hot potato in the Stormers camp because they have lost their captain in week one and they have lost two stand-in captains already.

On their return home they’ll have to negotiate tough away encounters with the Bulls and Sharks respectively and the fact that they have failed to score a four try bonus point thus far will put them under pressure to win these encounters in order to maintain their top position on the log.

Sixth er…. Third on the log is the Brumbies. Although their current points tally of 26 should put them behind the Crusaders at sixth, the conference system introduced last year puts them third overall. Jake White’s charges nearly caused an upset on Saturday when they came back against the Bulls and they should win the Lions next week. After that they play the Waratahs at home. The result of this match may decide who wins the Aussie conference and will become the only team to qualify for the playoffs in this conference.

The Bulls are probably still kicking themselves over that loss against the Blues. Currently equal to the Stormers on log points, they are fourth overall due to the conference system and the new rule prioritizing the amount of wins over points difference.

The Stormers’ good form on tour puts the Bulls under pressure to produce a similar run when they fly to Australsia next week. One can back them to beat the Rebels in their first match, but they’ll have to dig deep against the Waratahs , Highlanders and the Chiefs in the following weeks. How they perform against these teams will set the foundation for the rest of their season when they return home. With the Sharks their only away opponents after their return they’ll hope for a return similar to that of the Stormers to remain in the hunt for the top of the SA conference and a shot at first or second overall.

The Highlanders are entering the stage of the competition where so many promising Highlander campaigns have gone pearshaped in the past. This can be the case with the class of 2012 as well. They are currently on tour in the republic and will be playing the Cheetahs and Sharks respectively in the coming weeks. If they perform like they did against the Stormers they can easily drop out of contention on their return home with the Hurricanes and the Bulls waiting for them. The NZ conference is so tight that none of the top teams can afford losing three matches in such a short space of time, but they can just as well win all of these encounters and send a few bookmakers scrambling for their calculators.

The rule of thumb for Super Rugby is never write off the Crusaders, they have minced the Hurricanes on the back of a well deserved victory over the Stormers. They also nearly came back against the Bulls at Loftus. I’ll back them to win all of their remaining matches before the June break. After that it will be a scrap between the Crusaders, Chiefs and Highlanders for top honors in the Kiwi conference and a shot at the top of the overall log.

The Waratahs, still have a shot at a playoff spot although they are currently keeping the teams that are only making up the numbers company. This, again, is due to the conference system. They are one point adrift of the Brumbies and they lead the Reds by four points. First place in the Aussie conference is a must for any of the Australian teams because it’s the only way an Aussie team can make the playoffs.

These are the teams who, in my opinion at least, can still realistically reach the playoffs. I’ll cover the bottom eight later today and then I’ll take a look at how they can still influence the fate of the title contenders in the coming weeks.




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