Super Rugby has reached its final month of regular season competition. It’s been one of the most even playing fields in recent years – only nine points separates 3rd from 14th on the table. Almost every team in the competition still has a chance at achieving Super Rugby glory in 2019, but some sides have a very tough road ahead of them.
Historically, it’s been exceptionally difficult for a team to win Super Rugby unless they’re playing at home in the finals. The top team from each conference, alongside the next best runner up, will be guaranteed home-semis in 2019. For now, however, very few teams are safe and simply making the knockout round will take a good run of results in the final month.
How is each team faring with four rounds to go?
Games remaining: Blues (H), Chiefs (A), Rebels (H)
If one team has looked head and shoulders above the rest of the competition, it’s the Crusaders. The Crusaders have failed to record wins only three times this season – and two of those results have been draws. Mathematically, the Crusaders need seven points to guarantee their top spot on the ladder, but one win would likely see them through.
The only concern for the Cantabrians would be that their two draws have both come in the last three weeks, so they will want to reassert themselves as untouchable in the remaining rounds of the competition.
Predicted finish: 1st
Games remaining: Brumbies (A), Blues (A), Highlanders (A), Lions (H)
The Bulls have one of the toughest remaining schedules of any team in the competition – courtesy of having only just started their Australasian tour. They may be top of the South African conference at present but they have three very good teams right behind them – all who have easier matches ahead of them. Also not in the Bulls’ favour is that they’ve performed very poorly against New Zealand sides this year (20-56 to the Chiefs and 13-45 to the Crusaders) – and they’ve got two more games coming up very shortly. The Bulls will have to buck their inconsistency if they plan on getting any further in this competition, but even a pair of wins in the upcoming weeks might not be enough to see them home.
Predicted finish: 9th
Games remaining: Bulls (H), Sunwolves (A), Waratahs (A), Reds (H)
While the Australian conference has been more competitive than in recent seasons, it’s hard to really say that any of their teams have actually performed especially well. The Brumbies have managed to earn wins over the Blues, Stormers, Lions and Chiefs this season – which puts them well ahead of the chasing pack in terms of victories over foreign opposition. While they haven’t quite reached the heights of their 54-17 success over the Chiefs in a long time, they’re certainly the best performing Australian side as a whole and have managed wins when it matters. Their path to the finals is one of the easiest in the competition and they would have to do very poorly to not book top spot in the Australian conference from here on in, even though there’s only a three-point buffer between them and the third placed Waratahs.
Predicted finish: 3rd
Games remaining: Sharks (A), Lions (A), Blues (H)
The Hurricanes may be in fourth place, but they’re the second-best performing team to date and only sit below the Bulls and the Brumbies courtesy of Super Rugby’s peculiar ranking system. They’re eight points ahead of their next closest rival, the Jaguares – who pulled off an upset win in Wellington on Friday night – and have one fewer game to play than most of the teams beneath them. They also have tough matches coming up against the steadily improving Sharks and Lions – who are both also playing for spots in the finals. The Hurricanes don’t have an excellent record in South Africa in recent years, losing three of their last four matches there. Chances are, they’ll need to notch at least one victory there this year and also bring it home against the Blues to secure a semi-final – but they’re dead-set certainties to make the knockout rounds, at this point.
Predicted finish: 4th
Games remaining: Waratahs (A), Reds (A), Sharks (H), Sunwolves (H)
Last year, the Jaguares secured their first ever spot in the finals. It would be a surprise if they didn’t repeat that in 2019, given how well they’ve set themselves up. Three wins from their final four matches would see the Jaguares through to the quarter-finals – it’s a very doable equation for the Argentinians. The Waratahs have underperformed this year while the Reds are still very much a developing side. Tellingly, the Jaguares have never lost a match in Australia and there’s a good chance they could keep that streak alive given their opposition this year. Until last year, the Jaguares had a habit of losing games they were expected to win and sometimes winning games they were expected to lose. Providing that characteristic doesn’t rise from the ashes in the final rounds of 2019, the Jaguares should be on track for a second finals appearance in as many years.
Predicted finish: 2nd
Games remaining: Sharks (A), Stormers (H), Hurricanes (H), Bulls (A)
Figuring out the remaining quarter-finalists basically comes down to who have the easier runs in, because only one win separates the Lions from the 12th placed Stormers. The biggest concern for the Lions will be that of their three remaining games they have against South African opposition, two are against sides that have already comfortably beaten them this season – and both matches were in Johannesburg. The Lions’ season could well come down to this weekend’s match against the Sharks in Durban. If they can bank a win there, they should be fine to pull out one more win and see themselves through to the playoffs – but question marks remain.
Predicted finish: 5th
Games remaining: Lions (H), Hurricanes (H), Jaguares (A), Stormers (A)
The Sharks have managed only two wins in Durban this year, so home advantage has really been anything but in 2019. Still, the Sharks will fancy their chances against both the Lions and the Hurricanes after dispatching the former with ease earlier in the season and netting a draw and a close loss against Kiwi opposition on their Australasian tour. The final two weeks could be very tense for Sharks supporters if they fail to earn wins in their home matches – away trips to two teams also likely to be fighting for finals spots will be very challenging indeed.
Predicted finish: 6th
Games remaining: Stormers (A), Bulls (H), Waratahs (H)
New Zealand sides haven’t enjoyed the same dominance they have in previous seasons. For the past three years there have been four Kiwi teams in the finals. This year, there might only be two. Like many other sides, the Highlanders have gone through some serious peaks and troughs this year but look to finally be peaking at the right time. Is now going to be too late for the Southerners, however? Their final three games are all against teams with plenty to prove and they haven’t left themselves a huge buffer should they not bank wins in their final two home matches of the season. A finals spot is still within reach, but they may find in slipping out of their hands at the last second.
Predicted finish: 8th
Games remaining: Sunwolves (A), Waratahs (H), Crusaders (A), Chiefs (A)
The Rebels started the season so promisingly and looked to be Australia’s best shot at winning another title. The Genia/Cooper axis was functioning well and the backline seemed to be scoring tries at will, but that’s all dried up in recent times. After securing an early season win against the Highlanders, the Rebels have now failed to tip over any more teams from outside their conference, which is really what’s crippled their season. Given they’d likely need to knock over both the Crusaders and the Chiefs in the final two weeks of the season (and they’ll also have to secure a home win against the improving Waratahs), 2019 isn’t looking like the Rebels year.
Predicted finish: 10th
Games remaining: Jaguares (H), Rebels (A), Brumbies (H), Highlanders (A)
Like the Rebels, the Waratahs have only managed to emerge victorious against one side not placed in the Australian conference. They also succumbed to the lowly Sunwolves in Sydney, which was a pretty telling omen for the rest of their season. In contrast, they’ve only lost one match to Australian sides in 2019, so two wins from four matches would be fairly consistent with how the Waratahs have performed throughout the rest of the year.
Predicted finish: 11th
Games remaining: Crusaders (A), Bulls (H), Reds (A), Hurricanes (A)
It’s been a fairly typical year for the Blues. At one point they managed four wins in a row, which revitalised their chances of making the playoffs after a less than satisfactory start to the season. Since then, however, results have been poor. This weekend’s victory has given some fans a smidgeon of hope that perhaps there’s still a chance at making the quarter-finals. Inevitably, the Blues will painstakingly eliminate that hope in the weeks to come. Three away matches from four games does not make for pretty reading, especially when two of those games are against the table-topping Crusaders and Hurricanes.
Predicted finish: 12th
Games remaining: Highlanders (H), Lions (A), Sunwolves (H), Sharks (H)
It would be easy to forget about the Stormers, given they’re in 12th place, but when you factor in that they’re only three points shy of the top eight it’s easy to see that they still have a good shot at making 2019 a success. The Stormers also have a very hand run-in to the finals and three home games to play, which bodes well for a team that has only lost once in Cape Town this year. If the Stormers can maintain their performance at home, then they should manage to sneak in to the final spot on offer in this season’s quarterfinals.
Predicted finish: 7th
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