With the season over for many of the Super Rugby franchises, we’re down to the last 6.
It’s back to the drawing board for most, but there will be those teams who felt they could’ve done more to secure a position in the play offs; particularly the Hurricanes and Western Force who got edged out by the Highlanders. For the lower half of the log, well, they were simply not good enough and will need to do some serious introspection and reflection before they return next season. Sharks will be playing the Highlanders at home and the Brumbies welcome the Chiefs in Canberra.
The Waratahs are the AUS conference winners and topped the overall standings by 7 points. Tied first with the Highlanders for most bonus points, many will have their money on the New South Wales outfit. There’s a buzz in the air that the Waratahs could have what it takes to go all the way this season. Michael Hooper has been magnificent as captain and has lead by example. Credit must be given to the rest of the team for their contribution as players like Jacques Potgieter, Will Skelton, Kurtley Beale and Bernard Foley have been prominent. Not forgetting, super star Israel Folau.
In 18 years of Super Rugby the Crusaders have won 7 titles, been finalists 11 times and semi finalists in 15 of the past 16 years, plus the only Super Rugby team to complete a whole season undefeated. The red and black Knights didn’t start the season convincingly, but true to the standard of the franchise, and the return of some influential players, they have a bye into the semi finals. You’d always figure them to go into plays offs at the summit of the table but the Saders had to work hard for most of their victories this season. The Crusaders will welcome this short break as they wait to see who they’ll be facing, watching the action at home on their TV sets. The break will also serve those carrying minor injuries to be fit for the next crunch fixture.
Jake White will be lamenting the fact that he has to entertain the Highlanders this coming weekend when he could have claimed a comfortable home semi final. The Cell C Sharks have carried decent form since their Currie Cup victory at Newlands last year. Being well represented with Springboks both in the forward pack and backline, the Sharks have a well organized rush defense and outstanding attackers. White has managed his players and game plan extremely well and knows how to get the most out of his squad. The impact players that the Durban side have at their disposal is one of their biggest strengths and be sure that the likes of: Kyle Cooper, Cobus Reinach and Lwazi Mvovo will be looking to shake things up.
Last year’s runners up Brumbies will feel inappreciably disappointed that they qualified 4th; a good enough result nonetheless. Some saying their performance this season is still that of Jake Whites work, Stephen Larkham has disregarded those rumours by announcing another three years with the UC Brumbies, taking him through to the end of the 2017 Super Rugby season. Brumbies bounced back nicely this weekend after their 39-8 demolition by the high-flying New South Wales Waratahs in Sydney last week. The Brumbies will need their all their systems firing when they face the Chiefs. Larkham will be cognoscente that their only chance of winning is by their forwards providing the quick first phase ball that Matt Toomua and his backs need.
Probably in the same position as the Stormers, the Waikato Chiefs have been battling with the absence of key players – either from leaving the club or playing injuring. Still, the two – time champs have managed to sneak into the play offs. Certainly not one of their best season performances (by their standards) but there have been some players who have definitely stood out and shone. Broadie Retalik Liam Squire and Liam Messam have been exceptional this season all displaying strong lineout exponents, physicality and prominent power features in their game.
A surprise assortment from the season. The Highlanders have always been known for their expansive rugby style. Traditionally it has not got them a Super Rugby trophy but this year fortunes could change for the Dunedin based team. They travel to the Shark tank for their play off fixture against a determined Sharks. The Highlanders beat the Sharks 34-18 when they last meet in Durban but the stakes will be different this time around. The former Otago side will be sweating over the fitness of talisman Ben Smith but will be confident of the opportunities they have with players such as Aaron Smith, Malakai Fekitoa and Patrick Osbourne.