Keo.co.za looks at the permutations that will shape the semi-finals and play-off race.
Four teams could potentially host a semi-final and in doing so, earn a much-needed rest weekend. Furthermore, the scrap to get into positions five and six will make for compelling viewing, with the Bulls-Sharks fixture on Saturday the big one.
What follows are all the potential scenarios, broken down by individual teams.
- Win in Bloemfontein against the Cheetahs ensures a home semi-final.
- A bonus-point win and Reds defeat without them picking up two bonus points, and the Cape side will finish top.
- Defeat to the Cheetahs and a Crusaders win will see them drop to third, unless the Sharks or Bulls win by an inconceivable margin to steal the conference.
- Draw without a four-try bonus point and a Crusaders victory and they will finish third.
- Win over Chiefs in Hamilton secures top spot.
- Defeat without a losing bonus point, and a Stormers five pointer, means they’ll drop to second. That’s the lowest they can finish, even if the Crusaders win with a bonus point to end level on 62pts (the Reds will have had more wins, which is the primary criteria to separate sides who finish level on points).
- A draw is enough for them to finish first on the combined log.
- Beat the Hurricanes in Wellington and they win the NZ conference, guaranteeing they finish no lower than third. The highest they can end is second, given that, even if the Reds lose, they still won’t overtake them for total wins.
- Defeat for the seven-time champions and a victory for the Blues in Auckland means the Blues will top the NZ conference.
- Defeat without a losing bonus point would see the Bulls overtake them if they take a full haul from Loftus.
- A four-try draw against the Canes and victory for the Blues would see the NZ conference decided on points difference. The same scenario, but with a five pointer for the Blues would see them clinch the conference.
- The Blues will hope for the Hurricanes and Cheetahs to do a job on the Crusaders and Stormers. If those teams lose and they win against the Highlanders in Auckland, they will finish second and host a semi-final.
- However, even if they bank five points, but the Stormers lose with two bonus points, the highest the Blues can finish is third.
- A straight draw (i.e without scoring four tries) will see whoever wins at Loftus overtake them, while a draw with a four-try bonus point means that the Bulls will have to get all the points on offer to finish above them. In the same scenario, the Sharks would have to win with a bonus point and then hope for a superior points difference to finish fourth.
- The defending champions will secure a place in the play-off with victory.
- Realistically, the highest they can finish is fourth. Technically they could still win the conference but would have to beat the Sharks by a country mile and hope the Cheetahs restrict the Stormers and score plenty against them.
- If they lose and the Waratahs win against the Brumbies in Sydney, the Bulls are out.
- If they draw and the Waratahs win they’ll finish sixth.
- If the Waratahs lose without a bonus point, even if Victor Matfield’s men lose, they are assured a play-off place.
- However, if the Waratahs lose with two bonus points, and the Bulls lose with none, the Bulls’ tournament will be over.
- A win seals a place in the play-off. Like the Bulls, realistically the highest they could finish is fourth.
- If they lose and the Waratahs win they’re out.
- In the event of a Waratahs win, a draw could still see the Sharks qualify, provided they manage a four-try bonus point and denied the Bulls one.
- If the Sharks and Waratahs drew, the former would have to hope the Sydney side don’t do so with a four-try bonus point, in which case points difference would decide the final play-off spot.
- If they win, they will qualify for the play-offs.
- Defeat without any points means they watch the play-offs from their lounges.
- If they lose but collect a point, they must hope that the Sharks go down at Loftus without any bonus points. However, two points in defeat in the same scenario would see them qualify ahead of John Plumtree’s men.
- A draw will see them sneak into the play-offs provided that if the Sharks lose, they do so having picked up no points.
- If the Durban franchise do pick up a losing bonus point, and the Waratahs achieve a straight draw, points difference will decide the sixth placed finisher.
- In any scenario where the Waratahs finish level on points with the Bulls, the Pretoria franchise will qualify ahead of them based on their superior number of wins.