14 May

Virtual quarter finals in the 2010 Super 14
by Tracey Nelson
14 May 2010

It really couldn’t have been scripted better, the top six teams all playing one another in the final round of the Super 14 to decide the make up of the final four to play the semi finals. While the Bulls and Stormers are assured of semi final berths (and the Bulls already have first place and a home semi in the bag), the Crusaders v Brumbies and Waratahs v Hurricanes have become virtual quarter final play-offs to decide the other two semi finalists.

Round 14 kicks off with the Crusaders (6th) taking on the Brumbies (4th) in Christchurch. The Brumbies haven’t won in Christchurch since 2000, but have a better run going into this game with the Crusaders having returned from South Africa on Sunday evening with a very short turnaround time and on the back of three losses in a row. The travel fatigue and change of time zones is always tricky for sides returning from the Republic, adn while home advantage probably plays into the Crusaders’ hands I would still expect a close match.

The Crusaders haven’t hit top gear this season, and have spluttered along for large parts of the competition. However, their match against the Bulls last weekend saw them return to some classic form and they were very unlucky not to come away with a bonus point win. Meanwhile the Brumbies have turned around some mid-season form slump and come into the game with two good wins over the Reds and Highlanders under their belt.

This could be the last game in Brumbies colours for their skipper George Smith, so they will be throwing everything at the Crusaders to win this game and get themselves into the semis. But equally this is the sort of backs-against-the-wall challenge the Crusaders thrive on, and with Dan Carter returning to some welcome form you would just have to give the Crusaders the slight edge.

The very next match is the Waratahs (3rd) playing the Hurricanes (5th). This promises to be a humdinger of a match with the Hurricanes finding their best form at the business end of the season. These are two sides that play at the opposite ends of the spectrum, the Waratahs playing a measured, territory-based game while the Hurricanes are full of running.

The inclusion of Aaron Cruden at 1st 5 has been part of the Hurricanes’ turnaround in form, and he will need to be heavily marked by the Waratahs to avoid the Hurricanes’ backline being set loose. Piri Weepu at halfback provides an invaluable goal kicking boot, while Hosea Gear has been making every post a winner since his return from injury. Waratahs winger Drew Mitchell is sitting third on the top try scorers list with seven to his name.

The Waratahs come into this game after completely demolishing the Chiefs last week, following a shock loss against the Highlanders the previous round. The Hurricanes played brilliantly last week to shut down the rampant Reds and come away with a very resounding victory to follow on from their win against the Chiefs. Expect this match to be a right royal battle up front, and it may well come down to the team that makes the least errors on the night – both from a handling and penalty point of view.

Meanwhile, over in South Africa in the very last game of the round, the Bulls take on the Stormers. The Bulls are resting most of their team this week with the top finishing spot already cemented in place, so it should be a win to the Stormers unless something goes horribly wrong. The Stormers should also guarantee themselves a home semi final even without a bonus point win for four tries, because despite the possibility the Waratahs could end up on the same number of competition points the Stormers’ points differential is far superior.

So with the likelihood the Bulls and Stormers will be hosting home semifinals, it remains to be found out tonight which two sides will be travelling to South Africa to take them on. Obviously it will be the two winners from tonight’s games, but the order in which they finish could end up determined by how many tries the two winning sides score should either the two NZ or two Australian sides win.

Should both the Crusaders (36 points) and Hurricanes (37 points) win, and finish on the same number of competition points (the Crusaders by getting a bonus point win and the Hurricanes winning but not scoring four tries) then it would come down to points differential which the Crusaders (+75) have the better of the Canes (+51).Likewise, should both the Brumbies ((37 points) and the Waratahs (38 points) win and the Brumbies get the bonus point while the Waratahs don’t, the same thing will apply,but this will be a closer fought thing with the Brumbies (+85) only marginally ahead of the Waratahs (+81) on points differential.

In some ways you would have to think that it will be preferable to finish in fourth place and head to South Africa to play the Bulls in the semifinal because they will be playing in Soweto rather than at their fortress of Loftus Versfeld which is under preparation for the Football World Cup next week. The Bulls have looked far more beatable than than the Stormers, who will take on the third placed team in the other semifinal in Capetown. But however the final four are decided, it looks like a very exciting last weekend of round robin play.

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