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Super Rugby Pacific: Final round permutations

Analysis – We’re almost there with Super Rugby Pacific. After a very long, disrupted time, the curtain comes down on the regular season, with the good news for two thirds of the teams being that they will be back at it next weekend anyway.

Rieko Ioane
Photo: Photosport Ltd

The competition’s extremely generous playoff structure has been in for a fair bit of criticism – because really what would a Super Rugby season be without constant bashing of its structure – but you certainly can’t accuse it of leaving anyone undeserving without a chance to win.

So with a full slate of games lined up over the weekend, let’s try and figure out what may change by Sunday afternoon:

The Blues will finish first no matter what

They can’t be toppled, with the path to an Eden Park final and big crowd locked in. What may derail their momentum is their fixture against a dangerous Waratahs side, which will have to be done with a team made up of wider squad members. Really, no one would begrudge them a gallant loss as they’ve already equalled the franchise all-time record win streak, but if they cop a hiding and pick up some injuries it’ll be a different story. Or they could just win again, which they’ve proven they can do in all sorts of ways this year.

There could be a change at second and third, but that’s unlikely

The Crusaders and Brumbies could swap places in second, but that is reliant on a Reds win in Christchurch. So probably not going to happen but even if it did, it still means the Crusaders and Brumbies will meet in a semi final anyway.

The Canes could finish in the top four, but that’s even less likely

Jason Holland’s side has at least gained a degree of consistency of late that should see them beat the Force in Perth, but if they want to move up into home quarterfinal territory they need the Fijian Drua to beat the Chiefs. Stranger things have happened, that game is being played in Lautoka so the Drua have one of the more pronounced home ground advantages of anyone, but the Chiefs aren’t taking it lightly by naming a pretty strong team.

The Reds and Waratahs could swap places

If the Reds lose on Friday night to the Crusaders, they’ll be having to play a repeat fixture in Christchurch next weekend. Which is a depressing prospect that they’d like to hand off to the Tahs if possible. They can do that with a win, plus one for the undergunned Blues team.

The Force could force the Highlanders out

Even as the Highlanders started out their season in the most disastrous way – losing their first six games – everyone reminded themselves that eight teams make the playoffs. So the underperforming southern men were seemingly assured of at least eighth spot, but it turns out they may only just make it because a victory by the Force over the Canes will render the Highlanders’ fixture with the Rebels a must win. And yes, while the Rebels deserve their spot outside the top eight, remember that they almost pulled off a win over the much better Chiefs in their last home game.

So there it is, hardly a Hitchcockian level of suspense but at least a bit riding on the last weekend to make it interesting. Meanwhile, the Rebels, Moana Pasifika and Fijian Drua might as well start planning their Mad Monday celebrations now if they want, because they’re done no matter what happens.

The final, hopefully, will be a showdown between the Blues and Crusaders that will attempt to reach the intensity of their round nine modern classic. There are three more weeks of circling each other to go but if it provides a packed final at Eden Park, it’ll be worth the wait.

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