And with that, the 2017 Super Rugby has been completed. Not so much as expected mind you, with one key result last Saturday night affecting the Super Rugby finals series.
The side who had led the competition since the earliest rounds, the Crusaders suffered their first loss all year. Coincidentally, it was to the 2016 championship winning Hurricanes–so not an exact ‘easybeat’ at home in Wellington.
The 31-22 scoreline had many implications, but certainly it has now played into the hands of the Lions. The top-ranked South African side is easily the best performed side over the last two seasons. Considering that, the below standings show the best performing eight teams.
— Fox Sports Lab (@FoxSportsLab) July 15, 2017
Who Did Well #1 – Hurricanes
Yes, the current Champs should hold all the firepower, yet still without Dane Coles and then; within hours of the start, lacking Beauden Barrett. The fact they still withstood the pressure applied from the Crusaders helped the Wellington team.
They remained out of the reach of the Chiefs, who earned a long-haul flight to the republic. The ‘Canes shorter flight across the Tasman, to face the beaten ACT Brumbies, gives the champions an opportunity.
Note: the Hurricanes achieved many new records in 2017:
- Highest aggregate points – 596
- Most Tries Scored – 93 (Joint Top Scorers – Ngani Laumape/Vince Aso: 14)
- Highest Average Meters Gained – 523m per game
Who Did Well #2 – Sunwolves
Who would have guessed it? The Asian side had only accrued a single victory; over the Bulls. There skill level is as good as any side, but they have suffered many large scores. So when the Blues were scheduled, it on’t have been a match every fan marked as ‘a possible’.
But impossible became reality, and the Filo Tiatia coached side truly earned it. They withstood Blues pressure, and then pounced. With Jerome Kaino in the sin bin [second time in two weeks] the Sunwolves were outstanding. They stole the victory, but played superbly to amass 48 points. Most likely, their greatest win in two seasons of Super rugby.
On the other side of the coin, to sides who were exiled from the competition would play out a match with no reward. The Cheetahs may have earned their final victory; 20-21 over the Southern Kings at Mandela Bay Stadium, it would have felt hollow. Both teams had accepted their fate, yet had both played with admiral pride for the last three months.
Last Word on Rugby bid them well, in whatever International competition they may play in.
And now, 18 sides are reduced to eight teams who will fight it out for the 2017 title.
Super Rugby Finals Series Forecast
With the new format/conference system being slightly altered in 2017, the conference table leaders all earn themselves a home match. A reward for most, although it is still an illogical calculation when you factor in that the ACT Brumbies have won only six of 15 games played.
This round of the 2017 Super Rugby finals series, away teams will know the pressure is on them. Knockout rugby is always a tough equation, but there is a reward if the highest placed teams suffer losses. While it does not require a sliderule and matrix anymore, in reality it still favours the top seeded team–the Emirates Lions.
Super Rugby 2017 Quarter-Finals
Sides go into this weekend realizing they achieved goals set out in 2016/early 2017. So after the pats on the backs, this stage is another level up.
QF #4: ACT Brumbies v Hurricanes – GIO Stadium, Canberra
Unless you are entirely adverse to the form book, the much more capable Hurricanes take all confidence across to Canberra. (1) they beat the unbeaten Crusaders last week. (2) they know that GIO Stadium is not impregnable. Last season, the Highlanders stole the thunder from the Brumbies home quarter-final.
It will take every single bit of the Brumbies spirit to change that form book, although they now have an emotional element that could take them far. They have named the return of favourite son, Christian Lealiifano in the squad. Having just recovered from one year of treatment for Leukemia, his return will forge a strong bond within the group. Using that emotion, could be the key factor to overcome the undoubted attacking prowess of the Hurricanes.
NEWS: Christian Lealiifano will make his Super Rugby return in the QF clash with the Hurricanes.
— Brumbies (@BrumbiesRugby) July 18, 2017
Will the inclusion of Lealiifano be enough? Some might think so, however with only six wins, they have found it hard to win ‘anything at all’ in 2017.
QF #2: Crusaders v Highlanders – AMI Stadium, Christchurch
Even though they relinquished top-seed, Scott Robertson has had the team for all seasons. They have won when leading, when behind and when it is needed. A quarter-final (QF) is when it is needed. And he will welcome back an All Black front row.
What Tony Brown would do for those assets. But the Highlanders so see returning Aaron Smith and Ben Smith. That will assist the Southern men to redress two prior losses. The first, one of the most exciting come-from-behind victories seen in years. The 27-30 win took fans breath away.
Then, in Round 15, another classic was played in Christchurch. First-five Mitchell Hunt was the game winner, but each side put each other to the test. And that close result may again separate the sides. In some ways, it is ‘about time’ for the Highlanders. But hoping is not going to be adequate in this local derby.
A minute of brilliance from Seta Taminivalu (see above image) or Waisake Naholo could swing both sides way. Last Word on Rugby will envy those 20,000 fans who witness the match-up. It will settle little, but will be an ideal preparation for a possible Super Rugby champion.
QF #3: Stormers v Chiefs – DHL Newlands, Cape Town
This could be a more even game than some will assume so. Their last encounter went the way of the home side–before the Stormers had to travel. It was in April, when many believed the Cape Town team looked to be contenders. So they know how to beat the Chiefs at home.
What they cannot control are the Waikato-based Chiefs attack. Known widely for their ability to score from anywhere, and with history on their side. In 2016, the opposition walked away with a thorough 21-60 thrashing. It means that Dave Rennie arrives confident. His All Blacks are refreshed; even if he is missing Charlie Ngatai. Still, confident he can win at Newlands.
It will just be a matter of, can they. Is this the year the Stormers show they are no longer ‘also rans’.
QF #1: Lions v Sharks – Emirates Airlines Park, Johannesburg
Last weekend, the hosts triumphed 10-27 over the Sharks. That might well have just been the warm-up. An ultra confident Lions side saw their top seeding underline a strong desire to ‘right the wrongs of 2016’.
— vodacomrugby (@VodacomRugga) July 15, 2017
In defeating the Durban team, it is most likely a result that could be played out again but the Sharks have the most to play for. They could be the side who also know their oppositions strengths the most.
This is in-fact, the third encounter between the Africa 2 conference teams. Many occasions for the opponent to learn more about their victors game. And while that does not give them much advantage, it gives the familiarity.
They have one shot at redemption. Like the Highlanders, it is third time lucky.
Once these four games are completed, the championship pressure levels rise even higher. And no predictions can realistically be made. As others have found; calling the whitewash by the All Blacks, or saying that ‘pole position makes them a dead cert to cross the line first’ can be foolish.
The game is 80 minutes, and with highly motivated athletes, nothing should be discounted.
‘In the Event of a Draw’ – Super Rugby Finals Series Rules
With the All Blacks v Lions drawn series fresh in the mind, SANZAAR have gone to long lengths to share the details and tournament rules that might separate teams in the event that scores are level after 80 minutes.
This link shows that many scenarios are being planned for. And while the men on the field will do all they can to reach the semi finals, if it comes down to sudden death….or worse a kicking competition, coaches and strategy may be ‘thrown out the window’.
So, it is all to play for. in the Super Rugby finals series Plenty of action to enjoy this weekend across all four conferences as the best sides compete. And may the best teams win.
“Main photo credit”