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The Super Rugby play-off permutations

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Solving the play-off puzzle: The permutations for your team's Super Rugby quarter-final hopes

If you were hoping that the Super Rugby play-off picture was any clearer after the penultimate round of the regular season, you’ll be disappointed.

The only thing that is clear is that the Crusaders and Hurricanes will finish first and fourth by the end of this week, and that the Blues, Reds and Sunwolves are the only teams completely out of contention heading into the final round of the regular season.

Every other team, from the second-placed Jaguares to the 12th-placed Waratahs, has something to play for this weekend, with a place in next week’s quarter-finals the prized result.

Thickening the plot in the play-off race is the fact that all sides between fifth and 12th spot have to play a team also within those rankings, making round 18 one of the most open, competitive and complex final rounds of the regular season in recent memory.

In a bid to clarify what needs to happen in order for your side to qualify for the post-season, here are the permutations for each side ahead of this week’s fixtures.

Jaguares

The Jaguares. (Photo by Marcos Brindicci/Getty Images)

Current position: 2nd

Points: 46

This week: vs Sunwolves in Buenos Aires

A comprehensive 34-7 thumping over the Sharks in Buenos Aires on Saturday was enough to clinch the South African conference for the Jaguares.

The Argentine franchise have undeniably been the major success story of this year, and no matter what Phil Kearns says about them, they thoroughly deserve their place in Super Rugby.

With their conference title all wrapped up, they will enjoy a second successive trip to the post-season with home ground advantage for at least the quarter-final, but their second-place standing is yet to be locked in.

Just three points ahead of the third-placed Brumbies, they’ll need a win to secure their place as regular season runners-up.

Failing that, a draw with a bonus point would be the next be result to push the Jaguares out of reach, while a loss could see them drop down a place should the Brumbies overcome the Reds in Canberra.

Fortunately for the Jaguares, they’re hosting the last-placed Sunwolves, who have never won an away match against a team in the South African conference, so a win and a second-place finish appears inevitable.

Highest possible finish: 2nd

Lowest possible finish: 3rd

Probable finish: 2nd

Brumbies

The Brumbies. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Current position: 3rd

Points: 43

This week: vs Reds in Canberra

Like the Jaguares, the Brumbies claimed their conference title with a round to spare last week with an easy 35-24 victory over the Waratahs in Sydney.

That will hand them a top four finish, but it’s where about they finish in that top four that will concern the Brumbies leading into their home derby clash against the Reds this week.

Currently lying in third spot and three point behind the Jaguares, the Brumbies are relying on the Sunwolves to spring a monumental upset at the Estadio José Amalfitani on Saturday to provide the Canberra club with a chance of finishing second, which would provide them with home ground advantage through until at least the semi-finals, should they make it there.

Without that result, the Brumbies will be destined for third, but should the Japanese franchise stun their Argentinian counterparts, the door will be opened to overtake the Jaguares in spectacular fashion.

That would require the Brumbies to defeat the Reds at GIO Stadium, which has been a fortress for them all year, but in all likelihood, regardless of what happens in the Australian capital on Saturday, it seems the Brumbies will be heading into the knockout round as the third seed given the distance in quality between the Jaguares and Sunwolves.

Highest possible finish: 2nd

Lowest possible finish: 3rd

Probable finish: 3rd

Bulls

Embrose Papier of the Bulls. (Photo by Dianne Manson/Getty Images)

Current position: 5th

Points: 36

This week: vs Lions in Pretoria

Although back-to-back draws in New Zealand wouldn’t have done as much for their playoff chances as the Bulls would have liked, the Pretoria-based club are still in the best position of all the teams vying for a wild card play-off spot.

However, they’ll have to defend their position this weekend when they come up against the sixth-placed Lions at Loftus Versfeld in what’s effectively a play-off for fifth-place.

The winner of that contest will be uncatchable as the top-ranked wildcard side, and will have to travel to Wellington to face the Hurricanes next weekend.

On the flip side of that, a loss for the Bulls could see them plummet as far as eighth should they either lose to the Lions by more than 42 points and the Chiefs thrash the Rebels by more than 42 points, or if the Rebels simply win.

It doesn’t help that the winner of the Stormers v Sharks derby would overtake them should they come away from the Lions clash unsuccessful, but the chances of the Bulls not featuring in the quarter-finals are non-existent.

Realistically, should they lose this weekend, a seventh-place finish is most likely, as the Lions and the winner of the Stormers v Sharks match would surpass them.

The Bulls would probably prefer the Sharks to win the other South African derby of the round, because if they can secure a losing bonus point, the Sharks would have a harder task of pushing past the Bulls.

A losing bonus point for the Bulls would force the Sharks to win by at least 14 points, while the Stormers would only need a victory to advance past the a losing Bulls side.

They’ll undoubtedly want to keep things much simpler than that, though, so a win over the Lions in front of their home fans on Saturday is all that Pote Human will be asking of his side for a fifth-place finish.

Highest possible finish: 5th

Lowest possible finish: 8th

Probable finish: 5th

Lions

Aphiwe Dyantyi of the Lions. (Photo by Sydney Seshibedi/Gallo Images/Getty Images)

Current position: 6th

Points: 35

This week: vs Bulls in Pretoria

As outlined above, the Lions are in a very similar position to the Bulls heading into this weekend’s derby.

A bonus point win for the finalists of the past two years would see them through to the quarter-finals ranked in fifth-place, irrespective of other results.

The same can be said if they win without a bonus point as well, as even if the Stormers and Rebels both win with bonus points to make all three sides finish on 39 points, the Lions would finish top of the heap due to having more wins throughout the season.

A loss, though, could be detrimental to for the Johannesburg outfit if a raft of results went against them.

If Swys du Bruin’s team lose without any bonus points, they would be vulnerable to dropping outside of the play-off picture should the Highlanders win with a bonus point and either the Rebels win or the Chiefs win with a bonus point, while they would be overhauled by the winner of the Stormers v Sharks clash.

A losing bonus point would be crucial to their survival, though, as that would put them on 36 points, making it impossible for either the Chiefs or Highlanders to move past them, even if they secure bonus point wins, due to their inferior win records.

That would also make it difficult for the Sharks to pass the Lions on the standings, as the Durbanites would have to win with a bonus point due to their lower win rate to finish ahead of their South African rivals.

Much like the Bulls, a win in Pretoria would make life much more simple for the Lions in their quest for post-season action, but they should be wary to avoid losing without a bonus point at all costs.

Highest possible finish: 5th

Lowest possible finish: 9th

Probable finish: 7th

Stormers

The Stormers. (Photo by Carl Fourie/Gallo Images/Getty Images)

Current position: 7th

Points: 34

This week: vs Sharks in Cape Town

There’s no denying the magnitude of this week’s fixture between the Stormers and the Sharks – it basically acts as a preliminary final to the quarter-finals.

Win, and you’re through to the final eight.

Lose, and your season is over.

Victory for the home side would elevate them to sixth, moving past the loser of the Bulls v Lions clash in Pretoria, and would set them up for an away quarter-final bout with probably the Brumbies, possibly the Jaguares.

A loss, though, could pull the plug on their season, as the Sharks would definitely overtake them, as could the winners of the Rebels v Chiefs and Highlanders v Waratahs matches, forcing Robbie Fleck’s side into ninth spot.

However, similarly to the Lions, a losing bonus point could be their saving grace.

If they lost to the Sharks by within seven points at Newlands on Saturday, their competition points total would be 35.

That would be enough to hold out the Highlanders – due to an inferior win total – and the Chiefs – due to points difference – if they both won without bonus points.

If that were to play out, the only remaining issue would be the deficit of the Rebels’ loss to the Chiefs.

Trailing the Stormers by just two points in points difference, and tied on seven wins apiece, if the Rebels also lose with a bonus point, but do so by a margin of three points or less than what the Stormers lose to the Sharks by, then the Melbourne side could swap place with the South African franchise, pushing them out of finals contention.

In the unlikely event that the Rebels and Stormers both lose with or without a bonus point, but the Rebels’ margin of loss is exactly two points less than the Stormers’, thus levelling both sides’ points difference, then the team which has scored more tries throughout the entire campaign would qualify.

The same method of qualification would also be used if both teams win with or without a bonus point and the Rebels score two more points against the Chiefs than the Stormers do against the Sharks.

As it stands, the team that would go through would be the Rebels, who have scored 56 tries to the Stormers’ 34.

Therefore, if you’re a Stormers fan, you’ll be hoping your side can pull through with a crucial victory over the Sharks in five days’ time, otherwise you might have to make a few calculations to see if the men from Cape Town have made the cut or not.

Highest possible finish: 6th

Lowest possible finish: 9th

Probable finish: 6th

Rebels

Quade Cooper of the Rebels. (Photo by Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images)

Position: 8th

Points: 34

This week: vs Chiefs in Melbourne

The Rebels are almost in the exact same position as the Stormers in terms of their standing in the competition and the consequences that will entail this week’s results.

If Dave Wessels’ side are to feature in their first-ever play-offs since their inception in 2011, a win against a Chiefs side that is full of hope after their dismantling of the Crusaders two weeks ago is of paramount importance.

What makes that task more daunting is that the Rebels themselves faced the Crusaders a week after the Chiefs played them off the park in Suva, and the Melbourne side were thrashed 66-0 at Christchurch Stadium.

That doesn’t make for good reading if you’re a Rebels supporter, but that doesn’t mean they’re out of the play-offs race just yet.

If they can overturn their disappointing result from last week and clinch a win at home against the Chiefs, they will maintain their place in the top eight, and could even climb up to sixth should the Stormers lose to the Sharks.

Even if the Stormers win, a seventh-place finish is possible, as they would overtake the loser of the Bulls v Lions clash.

Lose to the resurgent Chiefs at AAMI Park, though, and the Rebels’ season will unravel.

A loss without a bonus point would spell the end of Melbourne side’s campaign, as the Chiefs would push them out of a play-offs spot, while wins for the Sharks and either the Highlanders or Waratahs could see the Rebels fall as far as 11th.

As has been the case for all sides currently sitting in a wild card play-off spot, a losing bonus point may just be enough to save the Rebels, as it would push them up to 35 points.

How that would affect them if the Stormers were to suffer the same fate has been explained above, but should they edge the Cape Town club on points difference with a losing bonus point, and the Chiefs and Highlanders also end up on 35 points, the Rebels would qualify due to having a better win record than the Highlanders, and a better points difference than the Chiefs as well as the Stormers.

All in all, this extremely complicated play-off scenario would be eased for the Rebels if they get the job done against the Chiefs this weekend, but that much is easier said than done, as Colin Cooper’s men showed against the Crusaders.

Highest possible finish: 6th

Lowest possible finish: 11th

Probable finish: 8th

Sharks

Curwin Bosch breaks away for the Sharks. (Photo by Steve Haag/Gallo Images/Getty Images)

Position: 9th

Points: 33

This week: vs Stormers in Cape Town

As explained previously with the Stormers, the equation is simple for the Sharks.

Win, and they’re through to the post-season, lose, and they’ll be sent home packing.

The best case scenario would obviously be a bonus point win, which could be enough to place them as high as sixth, provided that the Rebels’ success is limited to a win without a bonus point.

Win without the bonus point for the Sharks, and their place in the play-offs would still be confirmed, but their placing would be determined by whether the Bulls secured a losing bonus point against the Lions, if they scored 14 or more points than their Pretoria-based side, and whether the Rebels defeated the Chiefs or not.

If all of those factors go against them, the Sharks would still hang onto eighth-place, meaning a dismaying trip to Christchurch to face the Crusaders would be on the cards.

However, a loss would end all hopes of qualification into the quarter-finals, even if they were to secure a bonus point for keeping the deficit within seven points.

Such a result could see them finish anywhere between between ninth and 12th, so expect to see Robert du Preez’s side come out with all guns blazing in front of what should be a packed Newlands crowd on Saturday.

Highest possible finish: 6th

Lowest possible finish: 11th

Probable finish: 11th

Chiefs

The Chiefs. (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

Position: 10th

Points: 31

This week: vs Rebels in Melbourne

For a team that was considered dead and buried just over a month ago, the Chiefs have done remarkably well to get themselves back into play-offs contention after winning just three of their opening 10 matches to start the season.

Three wins and a draw in their last five matches exemplifies a superb turn in fortunes, and now they sit on the precipice of an eighth straight season in the quarter-finals following an emphatic win over the Crusaders in Fiji two weeks ago.

Nevertheless, their upcoming fixture against the Rebels is still a must-win game, with anything less than a win at AAMI Park being enough to bring their season to a close.

All things considered, a bonus point win is what will be required of them given that the Rebels, Stormers and Sharks all have much better points differences than them, so Colin Cooper will be expecting his men to emerge from Melbourne with five competition points.

From that, they can expect an eighth-place finish, which would pit them against the Crusaders in Christchurch, but that would be better than ending their season early.

Alternatively, should the Lions lose without earning a bonus point to accompany a Chiefs bonus point win, the Hamiltonians would be bumped up to seventh spot, meaning a probable trip to South America would be on offer.

A loss would see them drop to at least 11th regardless of who wins out of the Highlanders and Waratahs, though, and if the Blues and Reds manage to upset the Hurricanes and Brumbies, respectively, the Chiefs could fall as far as 13th.

Whatever way the result falls in Melbourne, don’t expect the Chiefs to exit the competition without a bang.

Highest possible finish: 7th

Lowest possible finish: 13th

Probable finish: 9th

Highlanders

Waisake Naholo of the Highlanders. (Photo by Dianne Manson/Getty Images)

Position: 11th

Points: 31

This week: vs Waratahs in Invercargill

Three draws throughout the season could come back to bite the Highlanders, who trail every other team in the hunt for a wildcard play-off spot in terms of their win record.

That much is important because the number of wins any team has is the first tie-breaker rule for any teams tied on points in Super Rugby, and given how tightly-contested this run to the play-offs is, a tie in points is likely to occur.

Still, with only five victories to their name this year, the men from Dunedin have managed to keep themselves in the hunt, but only just.

The Highlanders need a bonus point win against the Waratahs in Invercargill this weekend to keep their play-off aspirations intact, with the best they could hope for being a seventh-placed finish should the Lions lose without a bonus point and the Chiefs win without a bonus point.

Should the Lions do anything better than that, the Highlanders will still need to score three more tries than the Waratahs during a win at Rugby Park and hope the Chiefs don’t do the same across the ditch.

If that comes off, they can sneak into eighth spot, but anything else, except for a Lions loss and Rebels win with no bonus points for either side, will end their somewhat underwhelming campaign.

A poor run of results throughout round 18, including a loss to the Waratahs, could see them fall as far as 14th, but their minds will be firmly entrenched on racking up a big win to send the likes of Ben Smith and Waisake Naholo out of Highlanders country on a positive note.

Highest possible finish: 7th

Lowest possible finish: 14th

Probable finish: 10th

Waratahs

The Waratahs. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Position: 12th

Points: 30

This week: vs Waratahs in Invercargill

A bonus point win for the Waratahs might not even be enough to sneak into the top eight, but it’s all they can rely on as they prepare to take on the Highlanders in their home away from home.

Not only would they require a bonus point win, but they would also need the Chiefs to not pick up a bonus point while beating the Rebels, the Stormers to lose to the Sharks, and the Lions to lose to the Bulls without picking up a bonus point.

Should all those results come to fruition, the Waratahs, Chiefs and Lions would all be lodged between seventh and ninth on 35 points, and if the Stormers and Rebels also picked up bonus points in their defeats, that logjam would extend to 11th place.

With five teams all tied on 35 points, the first tie-breaker rule would come down to matches won, which would separate the Lions from the pack, as they would have eight wins compared to the Waratahs, Chiefs, Stormers and Rebels’ seven.

As they would take seventh spot, only the eighth and final position would remain vacant, and that would be filled by the team with the best points difference.

The Waratahs currently have a better points difference than the Chiefs, Stormers and Rebels, and if they were to secure a bonus point win over the Highlanders, that would only enhance their advantage.

It would be extremely unlikely, but this is the only way the Waratahs could qualify for the quarter-finals, and if even one of those results goes against them, they can write off their chances.

Still, Daryl Gibson’s squad will head to Rugby Park with the aim of scoring a bonus point win over the Highlanders on Friday, but with all things considered, they will need plenty of results to go their way.

Highest possible finish: 8th

Lowest possible finish: 14th

Probable finish: 12th

In other news:

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Solving the play-off puzzle: The permutations for your team's Super Rugby quarter-final hopes