It will be a case of “all or nothing” for the Vodacom Stormers and the Sharks as they each make a final bid to qualify for the Vodacom Super 14 semi-finals.
This year’s league competition culminates at the weekend with six teams still in contention for the three remaining playoff spots. Only the Crusaders are certain of their participation after losing just one of their 12 matches to date.
The Stormers, who have reached the semi-finals twice before, are currently in fourth place with 37 points. They travel to Johannesburg on Saturday to face the Auto & General Lions at Ellis Park (15h00) and must win the match to remain in contention.
However, they will have to try their utmost to earn a bonus point to prevent themselves being overtaken by either the Sharks or the Blues. The Lions are certain to provide stern resistance especially after their unexpected win over the Chiefs last week.
The Sharks, who have also reached the playoffs twice before, are on 37 points but have an inferior point difference. The Blues are sixth on 36 points.
The Sharks host the Chiefs at the Absa Stadium in Durban on Saturday (19h10). Playing in the final fixture of the weekend is in their favour as they will know exactly what they need to do to secure a place in the last four. The Chiefs have an outside chance of making it and will be tough to overcome. The Sharks also need to play for the bonus point and will have to find their rhythm quickly if they aim to succeed.
The Blues kick-off the crucial final weekend of league fixtures when they host the Hurricanes in Auckland on Friday (09h35 SA time). The Hurricanes need only to win to guarantee their qualification whilst a Blues victory could put the ‘Canes out. If the Blues get a bonus point and the Stormers and Sharks slip up they could even grab a home semi.
Another side that will feel the pinch at the top is the Waratahs, who face the Reds in Brisbane on Saturday (11h40). Currently lying third on 39 points, victory will be enough to secure a place for the Waratahs, who have reached the playoffs twice in the last three seasons. However, if they lose, and the Stormers, Sharks and Blues succeed, they will be eliminated.
The Crusaders, who have qualified for the playoffs for the 10th time in eleven years, are at home against the Highlanders in Christchurch on Saturday (09h35). They have already set a new record for the most log points in a season, surpassing the mark of 51 they set in the 2002 Super 12 and 2006 Super 14.
The Crusaders will be hoping to avoid a repeat of last season when they lost their final league fixture against the Chiefs and were left vulnerable in their semi-final against the Vodacom Bulls.
The Bulls travel to Bloemfontein where nothing but pride will be at stake against the Vodacom Cheetahs (17h05). The Western Force and the Brumbies, who meet in Perth on Friday (13h05) are in a similar position as the curtain closes on the 2008 league campaign.