Heading into the final round of Super Rugby Pacific, only three teams are certain of their positions on the table—the Blues are finishing in top spot, while the Fijian Drua and Moana Pasifika are finishing at the bottom.
Everything else is wide open. Specifically, the Crusaders and Brumbies are racing for second place, and with it home-ground advantage should they make the semi-finals. The Chiefs, Hurricanes, and Waratahs are vying for fourth place and a home quarterfinal.
And the Highlanders are looking to fend off the Force, holding onto the last qualifying position.
We take a look at three games coming up in Round 15, which will have a significant influence on this jostling for end of season position.
Fiji playing for pride in Lautoka
Despite a confirmed 11th place finish in this season’s Super Rugby Pacific, the Fijian Drua have had the most successful season ever for a debut side in the competition.
Of their thirteen games so far, they’ve managed to win two, having pushed quality sides right to the full-time hooter on a number of other occasions as well. Only a few times have they really looked out of their depth.
With their final game taking place in Lautoka against the Chiefs, in front of what will no doubt be a fever-pitch home crowd, the Fijians will want to end the season on a high.
This has all the makings of a banana skin game for the Chiefs, who most likely will be needing a win in order to secure a home quarterfinal next week. To make matters even worse for the Waikato side, thunderstorms are forecast for Saturday in Fiji, which will play right into the home team’s hand.
Look for the Drua to spoil the Chiefs’ party, and end their season on a high with a win in Lautoka on Saturday.
Blues taking their foot off the gas against the Waratahs
For the first time since 1997, the Blues have won 12 games in a row, and locked up the top spot in Super Rugby Pacific with a week to go. The Waratahs, on the other hand, are currently sitting in sixth position, needing a win and other results to go their way in order to secure a home quarterfinal.
Looking at this match up, it would be easy to think the Blues will waltz to victory in Sydney on the weekend. But here’s the thing: Having already secured pole position, the Blues have nothing to play for this weekend, and will likely rest some of their key players. The Waratahs, however, can avoid playing one of the competition leaders if they pull out an upset against the Blues.
In front of a home crowd, coming off an impressive away win against the Highlanders last week, the Waratahs have every chance of ending the Blues winning streak and throwing a serious spanner in the works of the Super Rugby Pacific finals make up.
The Force playing for their season at home
By the time the Hurricanes run onto the field against the Force in Perth on Saturday night, they will know exactly what their equation looks like heading into the quarterfinals.
If the Chiefs lose, or the Waratahs or Reds win, the Hurricanes will be playing to move up the table and secure a home quarter, while simultaneously avoiding a finishing spot as low as seventh. However, if the Chiefs win, and the Waratahs or Reds don’t manage to pull off upsets, the Hurricanes will be running out onto that field with absolutely nothing to play for, with a fifth place finish already confirmed. Though it will be too late to rest players by this stage, the impact on player motivation will be undeniable.
The Force, however, will have everything to play for. Should they win and then the Highlanders lose to the Rebels the following day, the Force will steal an unlikely playoff spot. Returning home after a tough tour to New Zealand, yet buoyed by a successful mid-week outing against Moana Pasifika where they bagged five points, the Force have the potential to be a handful for the Hurricanes. It’s a longshot, but the Force have been known to perform when they’re significant underdogs, and there’s no better time to do it than when their season is on the line.
Whether it’s Fiji taking down the Chiefs, the Waratahs ending the Blues winning streak, or the Force snatching a playoff spot, rest assured Super Rugby Pacific still has some plot twists left in its regular season.