42′s the magical number

Some believe 40 to be the magical playoff number in the inaugural Super 14. I think it will be 42, which means the Sharks cannot afford to drop another point and the Bulls have to get 19 from a possible 20, writes Keo in his Business Day column.

Both can’t achieve this goal because the two play each other in a fortnight, a situation that will eliminate one of the two remaining South African interests from the playoffs.

The Sharks, the most impressive of the South African teams this year, have to travel to Pretoria for the match and it would take a monumental effort for them to get the five points.

A team with 43-plus points is safe and you’d have to think that the Crusaders (40), Waratahs (38) and Hurricanes (38) have already done enough with four, three and four matches to play respectively.

The Hurricanes face the most demanding schedule of the three, with two of their matches in Australia against the Brumbies and Waratahs.

Their remaining home fixture is against the Chiefs. They will be taking nothing for granted but their form this season is good enough for at least one win from the three, which would take them to 42 league points.

The Waratahs play the Highlanders and Chiefs in New Zealand. Traditionally, the Tahs have struggled for wins when crossing the Tasman but they certainly are a different proposition this season. The Chiefs may trouble them, but it is unlikely the Highlanders will do damage and they should have the 42 points in the bag before completing their league obligations in Sydney against the Hurricanes.

The Crusaders, up against the Force and Stormers in Perth and Cape Town, should take 10 points from those matches.

This would take them to 50 and their last two matches against the Bulls in Pretoria and the Brumbies in Christchurch will influence who finishes fourth, not first.

The Brumbies are leading the chasing pack, five points clear of the Bulls and six in front of the Sharks, Chiefs, Blues and Highlanders, who all have 22 league points.

The Brumbies can still afford to stumble once and get there. They play three of their four matches in Canberra, which gives them an advantage, especially with two of those matches against the struggling High-landers and the Reds. This weekend’s match-up with the Hurricanes is significant.

All season the Crusaders, Tahs, Canes and Brumbies have consistently placed in the top four and the bookies would expect them to be there when the competition is reduced to four.

It would take a fantastic run from one of the five contenders in the pack outside the top four to sneak a fourth place.

The Sharks have the most favourable draw of the chasing pack, when you consider the quality of opposition and the venue for their fixtures.

It is only the Bulls that stand in their way of still being in the competition going into the last two rounds.

The Sharks should knock over the Blues, Stormers and Force and get 15 points in the process. That would take them to 37; close but not enough.

As coach Dick Muir rightly pointed out after the Sharks’ triumph against the Cats, the Sharks may well be a couple of points shy — the one-point home defeat against the Cheetahs and the two-pointer against the Crusaders being potentially the most decisive blows to their team’s playoff prospects.

The Stormers have been the let down of the South African sides but they’ve still got international players good enough to crush the spirits of the Sharks or Bulls. Realistically, if you assess the way they’ve played this season, they shouldn’t be in with a shout, but when it is SA against SA you can’t rely on form and logic as the barometer.

Of the South African sides, the Sharks would be the ones that would travel overseas believing in an away win to make the final. The Bulls, as history has shown repeatedly, have to be playing at home to be a factor. If they travel to Sydney or Christchurch it would add an extra week to the South African agony.

This is why the rest of SA should be backing the Sharks to beat the Bulls. They are capable of using those 42 league points in the playoffs. For the Bulls, 42 would be a number that merely makes up the playoff numbers.