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06 Jul 2014 10:22
Scrumhalf Nic Groom clears the ball for the Stormers at Newlands in Cape Town on Saturday night. (David Harrison, M&G)
Defending champions the Chiefs and the teams that aspire to their title will share a similar sense of anxiety as Super
Rugby approaches its final round with almost no certainty around the
outcome of the play-offs race.
The weekend’s 18th of 19 regular season rounds was
expected to winnow out the weakest of the play-offs contenders but,
instead, only one team - the three-time champion Bulls - dropped out
while many others were left still clinging to slim play-offs hopes.
Nine teams will enter next weekend’s final round with
chances of making the post-season as only six points separate the
fourth-placed Highlanders from the ninth-placed Blues. But several
teams, including the Chiefs, will depend on the outcome of other games
to decide whether they join the post-season contest.
The Chiefs showed some of the toughness and aptitude
for sudden-death rugby which has made them champions in each of the last
two season when they beat the Hurricanes 24-16 in Hamilton on Friday to
keep alive their title defence.
The Hurricanes had beaten the Chiefs 45-8 when the
teams met in Wellington only four weeks ago but the Chiefs found its
best form of the season to move within sight of the top six.
The Chiefs now face the Blues in Auckland next weekend
in a match both must win to stay in play-offs contention, depending on
The Hurricanes stayed in fifth place despite their
loss, but with a bye in the final round can now only look on as other
matches determine whether they reach the play-offs for the first time in
The Chiefs’ form this season has been mixed at best.
They topped the table after last year’s regular season with 12 wins and
66 points but will now enter the last round in eighth place with seven
wins and only 40 points.
“We’ve talked about the Hurricanes,” Chiefs coach Dave
“But if we can have the same sort of intensity then we’re in with a shot.”
The New South Wales Waratahs, who are already assured
of finishing first in the Australian conference, have a chance to clinch
first place overall when they play the fourth-placed Highlanders on
The Waratahs currently top the table with 48 points,
two points ahead of New Zealand conference leaders the Crusaders and
South Africa’s Sharks whose bid for first place faltered when they were
beaten 27-20 by the Cheetahs on Saturday.
The Sharks sat in first place for much of the season
and held that position through a tough four-match tour to Australia and
New Zealand on which they won three games.
But since their return to South Africa, the team have stumbled
to defeats at the hands of the 11th-placed Stormers and 13th-placed
Cheetahs seeing hope of a home semifinal fade.
The Sharks must beat the Stormers
at Cape Town next weekend, in the last match of the regular season, to
have any chance of finishing in first or second place and bypassing the
first round of play-off games.
Fijian winger Nemani Nadolo scored two tries as the
Crusaders beat the Blues 21-13 to sustain their bid for an eighth Super
Rugby title and to leave the Blues’ play-off chances dangling by the
thinnest of threads.
The Christchurch-based Crusaders are almost certain of
making the play-offs for the 13th-straight year but their last round
match against the Highlanders will determine whether they proceed
straight to the semfinals or battle their way through the preliminary
Two-time champions the ACT Brumbies stayed in sixth
place after a bye in the weekend’s round but they must beat the Force in
their last match to advance. The Force’s 30-20 win over the Queensland
Reds on Saturday brought them level with the Brumbies on 40 points and
means the outcome of next week’s match determines whether they will
reach the play-offs for the first time.
The Bulls’ play-offs hopes ended when they were beaten 16-0 by the Stormers. - Sapa-AP
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