Cape Town - The final weekend of regulation play in the SuperSport Rugby Challenge has turned out to become one of must-wins and desperate results as eight of the 15 teams will try to get into the best possible position for the quarter-finals.
After eight rounds of play, only Western Province are still unbeaten, while at least three others will be trying to secure the necessary points to be able to host the first round of knock-out matches next weekend.
With the top two in each of the North, Central and South Sections guaranteed automatic qualification to the final eight, the two best third-placed teams on log points will also sneak into the play-offs and could provide the highlight in the weekend's action. A number of permutations exist and results at one venue could determine the fortunes of teams playing at another.
On top of that, the fifth Rugby Festival of this exciting new tournament will also take place on Sunday in Oudtshoorn, where two Gold Cup qualifying games will be played as curtain-raisers to the main match between SWD Eagles and Western Province.
The latter already secured top spot in the South, while the Eagles are the only side in the competition yet to register a victory. This clash, to be played on Sunday, will determine the final venues for the play-offs.
The Capetonians (34 log points) look set to finish with the most log points overall, but should they taste defeat in the Klein Karoo, Griquas (30) or the Golden Lions XV (31) could pip them in the final act. Both these contenders face a tough assignment though, before they could start planning for a home game.
The Golden Lions XV will host the Blue Bulls on Friday at Orlando Stadium in Soweto, with all to play for in the North Section. The men from Pretoria need the victory to make sure the Pumas (24) do not move past them into the top two.
The Nelspruit side will face Hino Valke on Saturday in the Mbombela Stadium and will know that a victory should secure a top eight position.
The Central Section looks most likely to deliver the other third-placed qualifier. Griquas will be confident that they could lower the flags of the Griffons in Kimberley and top the pool, while the clash between the Toyota Free State XV (22 log points) and Cell C Sharks XV (24 log points) in Bloemfontein will determine the other top two finisher.
The South Section clash between Boland (17 log points) and Eastern Province (20 log points) in yet another new venue, Bredasdorp, will not only determine which one of the two teams will drop out, but could also help Border Bulldogs (22 log points, bye) into the play-offs.
The only teams that have no realistic chance to make the top eight are the Hino Valke and Windhoek Draught Welwitschias (North), Leopards and Down Touch Griffons (Central) and SWD (South), a clear indication of the competitive nature of this inaugural tournament.
The final round of fixtures are:
Friday 23 June
Griquas v Griffons
Free State XV v Sharks XV
Golden Lions XV v Blue Bulls
Saturday 24 June
Boland Cavaliers vs Eastern Province Kings
Pumas v Valke
Sunday 25 June 2017
SWD Eagles v Western Province