Series wins for the All Blacks, Wallabies and Springboks have cemented their positions as the first, second and third ranked nations in world rugby, while maintaining their outstanding record of success against rivals from the North since 1996.
The All Blacks boast 80 wins from 88 tests against Northern Hemisphere opposition (including the Lions), a winning record of over 90 percent from the inception of the Tri-Nations.
The 2011 Tri-Nations champions the Wallabies have won 81 from 104 (77 %) tests against rivals from the North, while the Springbok have won 70 of 95 (73.7%) to round out a remarkable period in the professional era of the original SANZAR teams.
Now the National teams will disband and roughly 105 test players will join their Super Rugby franchises this week for a blockbusting round 16 which has six-from-six local derbies to ramp up rivalries.
The top six feature the Chiefs, Brumbies and Stormers (the three respective Conference leaders) while the Crusaders, Bulls and Hurricanes round out the current wildcard qualifiers. The Sharks, Highlanders and Reds are still in with mathematical chances to reach the Super Rugby Finals Series.
With a host of local derbies planned for the remaining three rounds, there is still so much to play for even for franchises ‘out of contention’ with many of the lowest ranked teams able to provide spoiler for those seeking Super Rugby Finals Series participation.
The Crusaders are looking for their eleventh straight appearance in the knockout stages (and record 14th overall), the Bulls are looking for their fourth championship since 2007, the Brumbies are looking to end an eight-year title drought, the Reds are looking at becoming just the fourth franchise to defend a Super Rugby crown – while the Stormers, Hurricanes, Sharks and Highlanders are looking for a maiden championship.
Round 15 saw the Crusaders, Brumbies, Chiefs, Hurricanes, Lions and Stormers sign off with important wins – while the Cheetahs, Force and Reds took their second byes of the season.
The Chiefs (58 competition points) finished top-of-the-table and New Zealand Conference leaders, seven points clear of local rivals the Crusaders (51) who hold the highest wildcard qualifying position.
The Stormers (54) hold bragging rights for the South African Conference, five points clear of the Bulls (49) who sit in fifth position overall.
The Brumbies (49) have the honours for the Australian Conference, with the defending champion Reds (44) the next best team chasing tails of the men from Canberra.
The Hurricanes (45), Sharks (45), Highlanders (44) and Reds round out the top nine and the remaining teams still in mathematical calculations for the Super Rugby Final’s Series.
To kick-off Round 16 the top-of-the-table Chiefs will head to Forsyth Barr Stadium to play the Highlanders, who can enter Super Rugby Final’s Series qualification with the Southerners taking down the locals in Hamilton in round one with a 23-19 victory.
The defending Super Rugby champions will begin the final stage of their title defence without captain James Horwill, who was confirmed for surgery during the June break, but the popular Reds will have the services of Quade Cooper alongside a firing Will Genia.
The Rebels host the Queenslanders, with the Melbourne based side looking to break a twomatch losing streak after beating the Force and Crusaders.
The Crusaders will look to keep their unbeaten run at the new AMI Stadium intact when they host the Hurricanes, but the reintroduction of their All Blacks could be a mixed bag as they supplied ten members to the squad for Ireland.
Australian Conference leaders the Brumbies head to Perth, where the Force will look to win two straight matches for the first time this season after beating the Lions in round 14. The Western Australians had a bye in the week leading into the June break, alongside the Reds and the Cheetahs.
The Cheetahs head to Loftus Versfeld to face a Bulls team now coming off three defeats, a change of form after winning five, and if the men from Free State can back up their win over the Waratahs, they could still remain in calculations to reach the last six.
The Stormers will look to maintain their grip of the South African Conference with a win over the Lions, with the top ranked team in the Republic unbeaten at DHL Newland this year and boasting a competition equaling (with the Chiefs) 11 wins from 13 matches.
The Lions will want to build on their upset win against the Sharks, where they broke an 11- match losing streak against the in-form franchise from Durban, with the title contenders – based on them remaining within the top nine – taking a break upon Super Rugby’s re-start.
The Blues and Waratahs will join the Sharks on a round 16 bye.
However, the six teams ‘out of contention’ can still spoil any of the contenders chances, with no match in reality a dead rubber with bragging rights within conferences up for grabs.