Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town - Quarter-finals
abroad for two South African teams, the Stormers and Sharks … with the latter
playing the now highly likely winners of the SA conference, the Jaguares, in
That is my
call, despite the obvious hazards involved in anticipating what happens in
three further rounds of ordinary season, for the opening round of knockout play
in Super Rugby 2019.
Stormers, as predicted runners-up in the SA group, will travel the “other” way
on the planet, meanwhile, and face the Brumbies in their quarter-final in
It is going
to take a mathematical miracle from here for the Crusaders, defending champions
and sporting a 13-point cushion over nearest challengers the Hurricanes, to be
deprived of top-placed finish overall once more, so virtually take that status
for granted now.
predictive exercise, they will host a home quarter-final against compatriots
the Highlanders, who will sneak into the playoffs in the last berth of eighth:
the ‘Saders, of course, would also then have rights to both a home semi and
potential Christchurch showpiece (July 6) if they duly advance.
be another NZ-staged quarter-final, we estimate, with the Hurricanes - who will
be artificially condemned to fourth overall despite probably warranting better
than that - entertaining the possibly fifth-finishing Rebels.
because the closing pecking order (the top eight in the competition officially
make the cut) could look like this, including our predicted final
ordinary-season points tallies: 1 Crusaders (62pts), 2 Jaguares (49), 3
Brumbies (44), 4 Highlanders (49, and not enabled by structural stipulations to
end higher), 5 Rebels (41), 6 Stormers (40), 7 Sharks (39), 8 Highlanders (38).
some reasonably “safe” results to predict in what is left of the pre-knockout
phase ... though also a few stinkers that could go either way, potentially
wreaking havoc with our QFs scenario.
is also made more perilous because, as things stand, you could suggest that
only two teams, perhaps, can be deemed right out of playoffs contention: the
Sunwolves (definitely, as they are stuck firmly to the basement on 12 points)
and the Reds (24 points).
Waratahs and Blues (26) and Chiefs (27 - and in their case just two games
left) can only be considered outsiders from here to wriggle through the funnel.
probably leave the current top 10 teams on the ladder fighting it out for the
eight berths, and both the Bulls (still two games in formidable New Zealand to
tackle) and Lions (tough run-in, even if they manage to knock the Stormers over
in Johannesburg on Saturday) run a high risk of missing out.
the resurgent form of the Capetonians, the derby looks extremely “50-50”
despite the Lions’ Highveld advantage at the weekend, and Swys de Bruin’s
charges are also no guarantees to beat either of the Hurricanes (home) or Bulls
(away) thereafter - especially if inspirational regular captain Warren
Whiteley’s frustrating injury woes drag on.
Stormers, currently level with the Lions on 30 points, could quite feasibly
still overhaul them even if they lose on Saturday.
because in our anticipated model for them over the next three weeks, they will
shift from 30 to 40 points: a losing bonus point (at least?) from the pivotal
Lions clash, a full house of five from the frail Sunwolves at Newlands, and
then a basic win, debatably, in a nail-biting closing fixture against the
Sharks, also with home advantage.
We see the
Sharks picking up six more log points from here (to go to 39): a tight victory
over the Hurricanes at Kings Park on Saturday - though that result going the
other way is entirely possible - plus losing bonus points from each of the next
dates against the Jaguares and Stormers, both on enemy terrain.
KwaZulu-Natalians progress safely to the quarter-finals, they could well be
playing the Jaguares on the other side of the Atlantic for the second time in a
fortnight, which would be a relatively tough ask in time-zone-disruption terms.
some 36 points from here is their best prospect, and that ought not to be quite
enough to qualify. That said, they are far from a necessarily spent force yet,
South African pecking order, and how many teams from the conference will
progress, also depends quite strongly, of course, on several results from
remaining matches featuring teams from the other two conferences, so we will
not pretend this is a scientific exercise.
Nevertheless, a reminder of those QFs we fancy will transpire: Crusaders v Highlanders, Christchurch; Jaguares v Sharks, Buenos Aires; Brumbies v Stormers, Canberra; Hurricanes v Rebels, Wellington.
*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing