New Zealand’s four teams still in Super Rugby contention aren’t wasting time with calculators or crystal balls entering the final round of matches.
The Chiefs, Crusaders, Hurricanes and Highlanders are all guaranteed quarter-final berths but won’t know where they are the be played or who they play until the round concludes in Buenos Aires on Sunday morning (AEST).
The result between the competition-leading Lions and the Jaguares will complete the play-off picture.
Only the New Zealand conference winners will host a home quarter-final, which is what the teams will effectively play for in two intriguing derbies on Saturday night.
The conference-leading Chiefs are in the box seat, playing the third-ranked Highlanders in Dunedin shortly after the second-placed Crusaders meet the Hurricanes in Christchurch.
A bonus-point win over the defending champions will guarantee the Chiefs top spot. Any other result and it’s a dogfight, with the three points separating the four teams who have all enjoyed excellent campaigns.
The Hurricanes need the most to go their way and captain Dane Coles says his team won’t fear travel – whether to South Africa, Australia or elsewhere in New Zealand.
Teams forced to travel in the play-offs, particularly the long haul between New Zealand and South Africa, have struggled in the competition’s first 20 years.
“If we have to come to that, we’ll just deal with it,” Coles said.
“Things are there to be broken and whatever happens, happens. We’d rather not travel but that’s just the way it is.”
Coach Chris Boyd says playing first up on Saturday is a disadvantage for them and the Crusaders but says the tight nature of the ladder is good news for fans wanting a bright spectacle.
“Both sides will probably be looking to secure a bonus point. I would imagine it will be a pretty enterprising sort of game.”
HOW TO HOST A KIWI SUPER RUGBY QUARTER-FINAL
FINAL ROUND GAMES ON SATURDAY
3.15pm AEST – Crusaders v Hurricanes, Christchurch
5.35pm AEST – Highlanders v Chiefs, Dunedin
CHIEFS (NZ leaders, second overall, 51 points, +160 differential)
Simple, beat the Highlanders with a bonus point. If there’s no bonus point, they will be passed if the Crusaders bag maximum points.
The Chiefs can still finish top if they draw or even if they snare a bonus point in defeat and the Highlanders don’t get one. Then they’ll need the Hurricanes to have won without a bonus point against the Crusaders.
CRUSADERS (second in NZ, third overall, 50, +195)
Beat the Hurricanes and then the Chiefs lose or draw against the Highlanders. A draw would also be enough if the Chiefs lose and the Highlanders don’t get a bonus point.
A bonus point win will be enough to surpass the Chiefs, if the Hamilton outfit can’t match that result.
HIGHLANDERS (third in NZ, fourth overall, 48, +139)
Beat the Chiefs and ensure the visitors don’t get a bonus point. If they do, make sure to get one themselves. Then hope the Hurricanes have beaten the Crusaders but not by too much.
HURRICANES (fourth in NZ, fifth overall, 48, +119)
Beat the Crusaders with a bonus point or win handsomely and then hope the Highlanders beat the Chiefs and that neither of those two teams get a bonus point.