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Super 14 fans kept guessing over playoffs teams, venues

Super 14 fans kept guessing over playoffs teams, venues

The last match of the last round of rugby union's Super 14 could have the last say on which teams make the playoffs and which host semifinals.
Seven teams start the round with firm or mathematical chances of making the playoffs and four have the prospect of a home semifinal, including South Africa's Bulls who host Queensland in the 78th and final match of the 14-week round robin.
Five of the seven matches in the final round bear directly on the playoff race. The first-placed Canterbury Crusaders meet the sixth-placed Waikato Chiefs; the third-placed Auckland Blues play the seventh-placed Western Force; the fifth-placed ACT Brumbies play the Otago Highlanders; the second-placed Sharks play the Stormers and the Bulls play the last-placed Queensland Reds.
The Crusaders, Sharks, Blues, Bulls, Brumbies and Chiefs are still firmly in the playoff hunt and the Force retain a slim chance of qualifying.
Canterbury, the Sharks, Blues and Bulls are also in with a chance of hosting home semis.
The first piece of the playoffs puzzle will fall into place when the Crusaders and Chiefs meet Friday at Christchurch.
Canterbury, which can clinch first place, had its confidence shaken by last week's 15-6 loss to the Brumbies, which damaged the image of invincibility which had been growing as the playoffs approached.
The Chiefs have to beat the Crusaders for the first time since 1998 and to break Canterbury's 26-game winning streak at home to have any chance of booking a semifinals place.
"It's a great game when both teams have something to play for," Chiefs coach Ian Foster said. "The Crusaders will want to defend their home record and have to win to get a home semifinal berth."
Canterbury have lost All Blacks flyhalf Daniel Carter for the match _ sidelined with a neck injury and replaced by Stephen Brett _ but lock Chris Jack has recovered from a hamstring strain. Coach Robbie Deans said the Crusaders could only win their match and let the remainder of the round unravel in its own way.
"We want to push on and convert our first place on the standings into a home playoff, ideally, and that's the opportunity we've got this week," Deans said.
The Chiefs, Brumbies and Force are left to launch their playoffs bids from positions outside the top four. The Perth-based Force have the toughest assignment, starting the round with 32 points and needing five points at home against the Blues to reach 37, bringing them level with the Blues and Bulls.
"I think you are always a hope," said Force flyhalf Matt Giteau. "We just go out there and play football. If it happens it happens, if it doesn't it doesn't."
The Brumbies, who have to beat the Highlanders at Carisbrook to move into the top four, have been heartened by their win over the Crusaders.
"The main thing is making sure you peak at the right end of the season, I think all things indicate that we are doing that," center Stirling Mortlock said.
"Last week was a great effort, but that's certainly not where it stops, we've got to make sure we improve from last week."
The Stormers are unlikely to make it easy for their South African rivals, the Sharks, to claim a home semifinal.
"People have been asking me all week whether the Stormers will take it easy, but if anything they will make it harder for us," Sharks flanker A.J.Venter said.
"There are no freebies in the Super 14, especially local derbies where the players have Springbok aspirations to consider. The Stormers have plenty to play for."
The Bulls also are expecting a tough encounter with the Reds.
"There's a reason the Super 14 is considered the toughest tournament of its kind in the world _ any side can lose to another on the day," Bulls coach Heyneke Meyer said.
"There's no way that (we'll) go into Saturday's match complacent."
Former All Blacks captain Tana Umaga will make his last Super 14 appearance when the Wellington Hurricanes play the New South Wales Waratahs.


Updated : 2021-04-17 14:36 GMT+08:00