Who will make the playoffs and who won't

Only a few weeks ago no one would have bet on:
  • The Bulls or the Sharks in risk of not making the semifinals.
  • The Crusaders with real options of making the semifinals.
  • The Chiefs on top of the table.
And this is how the picture is right now, with just 4 games to go (except for Waratahs and Sharks, with only 3 games remaining).

First of all, given the fact that both Waratahs and Sharks have been playing for ten succesive rounds without a bye and both have lost their last week's game, had not it been fairer if they had rested last week?

But, that's not the subject, although it could take a high toll to both Durban and Sydney at the end of the season. What are the chances of every contender to the title?

  1. Chiefs. The Chiefs have got it right since round 3. 28 points in 6 rounds must be a kind of record and have deserverdly lifted the Chiefs to the number 1 spot. But two are the Chiefs main foes, now: a hard calendar, with games in Pretoria and Cape Town and two finals in the final weeks against Hurricanes and Brumbies is the first, and their own ghosts of the past is the other. Last year they were also in a run when suddenly they fainted. This year, things look much better for them, with better play, a better position in the ladder, but still, the hard calendar lies ahead. The Chiefs would need at least 10 points to classify, which inevitably means two wins. Wins at Cape Town and against the Brumbies are a must, while everything would smoother if they manage to win at Loftus Versfeld next week. I think the Chiefs will end with 41 points and possibly, fighting for the 4th place.
  2. Sharks. All of a sudden, the Sharks numbers are not right. With a bye next week, their worst enemy could be the lack of chances to gather points. With Highlanders, Waratahs and Bulls visiting the once so strong Durban's fortress, how many points can the Sharks get? 15 points would see them classified, but, can they get three victories? 2 wins and a loss could see them getting less than 10 points (they have 31 now and will have 31 next week), and Waratahs and Bulls will surely be desperate for a win. The Sharks-Bulls game in the last round will be the most exciting game of the season for sure. I predict the Sharks to end with 41 or 42 points fighting for the 4th place.
  3. Bulls. The Bulls are possibly the team with the easiest path to the top. Three games at Loftus Versfeld could be enough for them, making the last game in Durban less relevant. But if for any reason they lose one of their three home games, they would come to the last week with less than 40 points and praying for a win. That means that the game against the Chiefs will be a final for the Bulls. If they get this one, the Force and the Cheetahs won't look so threatening and they could seem themselves already classified with 42 points with one game to go. My prediction is that the Bulls will end in first-second place with 43 or44 points.
  4. Hurricanes. Beware. The Hurricanes can get to the first place. They play the Brumbies and the Blues at home, the Chiefs in Hamilton and the Reds in Brisbane. They should be targetting both games at home and the one in Brisbane, for a total amount of 14 points. For them, getting the most of their upcoming fixtures at home is life or death. Neither the Brumbies nor the Blues will be easy victims, but the Mackay mourn alone won't be enough for the Brumbies and the Blues... well, the Blues look fearsome. I think the Hurricanes will end with 42 or 43 fighting with the Bulls.
  5. Blues. Oh, God. The Blues have stolen the Chiefs the label of being the most powerful and the most vulnerable team of the Super 14 this season. They have the advantage of playing three games in New Zealand and one in Canberra, but their rivals won't be easy at all. Hurricanes, Brumbies and Crusaders could spoil their bid to the playoffs. Their first game against the Reds will surely give them 5 points but, how many points can get them out of the last three? A win in Canberra won't be easy, but a win in Wellington seems even more difficult. The Blues could see themselves in the last round with 37 points playing in Auckland an all or nothing game against the Crusaders. Nothing less. You cannot miss the last week!!! I predict the Blues will fall short of the playoffs, with 38 points at the end of it.
  6. Waratahs. Oh, God (bis). The Waratahs do have 27 points and will have 27 points next week, which is a burden almost too heavy to wear. The loss to the Force could have come at a heavier loss; they are now 14 points away of the playoffs with only three games remaining. And their try-scoring ability is not their best quality. They could get 9 from Bloemfontein and Jo'burg, but do you see them getting 5 or even 4 from Durban? Even 13 points in three games would not be enough. I predict the Waratahs to finish with 37 points out of the playoffs just like the Blues.
  7. Brumbies. The Death of Shawn Mackay has made the Brumbies click. Now they share something in common which is greater than the colors they defend. They are now together in a quest to offer their lost teammate their affection, their love towards him. This is what permitted them to defeat the Bulls last week and make them a hard foe, if not the hardest of the foes. Expect the Brumbies to win every game when decided by close margins. But their toughest game will be next week at WestPack stadium, against the Hurricanes. Only 4 wins will be enough for the lack-of-bonus-points Brumbies, but I don't see them getting close to it. I can see them gathering 10 or 12 points and ending with the Blues and Waratahs or perhaps a bit better, 38 or 39 points, but not enough to get to the playoffs.
  8. Crusaders. Cheetahs, Lions, Reds and Blues. All away, none at home. Expect the Crusaders, the hot team of the competition to win their three games coming to Auckland and perhaps reaching 39 points before coming back to New Zealand. Then, in one of the strongest rivalries in the history of Super 14, both teams might play a game with the winner getting a place in the playoffs. I'll be bold and concede the victory to the Crusaders, ending thus with 43 or 44 points and, oh surprise, on top of the ladder.

Then, this would be my predictions for the ultimate standings

  1. Bulls, 43
  2. Crusaders, 43
  3. Hurricanes, 42
  4. Chiefs, 41
  5. Sharks, 41
  6. Brumbies, 39
  7. Blues, 38
  8. Waratahs, 37

I think that Waratahs, Brumbies and Blues won't make the semifinals, but they could drag some teams with them out of the playoffs. This is the toughest of the calls, but I'm sticking to it.

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