Super Rugby 2019: Stars align for NZ playoff hopes, Highlanders or Chiefs

With one week left in the Super Rugby regular season, two NZ teams have already cemented home advantage in the quarter-finals - and two others still have a chance of sneaking into the playoffs.

The only Kiwi side out of contention are the Blues, whose hopes finally ended with their infuriating 29-28 loss to the Reds in Brisbane last Saturday.

But despite their losing records to date, the Chiefs and Highlanders have everything to play for in their final scheduled outings.

Can they both somehow secure spots in the top eight for the business end of the season?

Here's how the weekend shapes up for the contending NZ teams…

Schedule

Friday - Highlanders v Waratahs, Rebels v Chiefs

Saturday - Jaguares v Sunwolves, Hurricanes v Blues, Brumbies v Reds

Sunday - Stormers v Sharks, Bulls v Lions

Crusaders

 

Record: 11 wins, three draws, two losses, eight bonus points

Place: First

Final round: Bye

The two-time defending champions have nothing left to achieve in the regular season and fittingly have the week off to prepare for the post-season.

Their big win over the Rebels last week silenced any doubts, after their shock loss to the Chiefs in Fiji, while also securing the top spot on the table and home advantage through the playoffs.

Mission accomplished.

Playoff chances: 100 percent

Hurricanes

 

Record: 11 wins, one draw, three losses, three points

Place: Fourth (but second-best record)

Final round: Blues (home)

Once the Crusaders had wrapped up top spot, the Wellington-based side had nothing more to gain, but showed they're playoff ready with a convincing road win over the Lions, runners-up for past three years.

They can still gain a moral victory over their rivals - a win this weekend would give them more than the titleholders, who would owe their table superiority to draws and bonus points.

If they lose and the Jaguares win, the 'Canes could slip behind the Argentinians on the ladder, but they are already consigned to fourth seeding for the playoffs - behind the South African and Australian conference winners - so no real consequences there.

They won't want to lose momentum against the Blues on home turf though.

Playoff chances: 100 percent

Chiefs

 

Record: Six wins, two draws, seven losses, three bonus points

Place: 10th (three points outside playoffs)

Final round: Rebels (away)

After playing much of the season without their three best players, the Chiefs are somehow still in the reckoning and can steal a playoff berth with a win, preferably with a bonus point.

They have two of those stars back against the Rebels - Sam Cane's return from fractured neck has inspired the late-season charge, while Brodie Retallick will take the field for the first time in two months.

But the Chiefs will need some outside help - they need the Highlanders and Waratahs to play out a tight contest, with no bonus points.

A Bulls win would give the Waikato-based franchise a chance to creep past the Lions, but a Stormers-Sharks draw could really throw a last-minute spanner in the works.

The Chiefs cannot rely on a countback to progress - they have the worst points for/against difference (minus-65) of the all teams still in contention.

Playoff chances: 40 percent

Highlanders

 

Record: Five wins, three draws, seven losses, five bonus points

Place: 11th (three points outside playoffs)

Final round: Waratahs (home)

The southerners boast the same number of competition points as the Chiefs - they have less wins, but more bonus points and the benefit of a plus-12 points difference.

Their cause would profit from a moderate Chiefs win - with no bonus points either way - over the Rebels, along with a Bulls win and a clearcut Stormers-Sharks result, either way.

They play at home-ish (Invercargill, not Dunedin), enjoy a countback edge and apparently the Waratahs will rest their Wallabies for this clash, so perhaps the Highlanders are a slightly better proposition than the Chiefs.

Playoff chances: 45 percent

Can both Chiefs and Highlanders reach playoffs?

 

Yes, if both win with bonus points, that would put them in prime position. The Stormer-Sharks winners will advance and a comfortable Bulls win over the Lions would open the door for a fourth NZ team.

If they miss the bonus point, the Chiefs and Highlanders could still end up in a scramble for the last spot, with the Chiefs poorly placed.

Playoff chances: 30 percent

Blues

 

Record: Five wins, one draw, nine losses, seven bonus points

Place: 13th (five points outside playoffs)

Final round: Hurricanes (away)

Another frustrating season ends for the Auckland-based side, with Leon MacDonald joining a long list of head coaches to age prematurely in the role.

They showed glimpses of progress, but inconsistency and an inability to capitalise on their opportunities really crippled them.

They have one last shot at redemption, when they travel south to Wellington, but honestly, which would you rather see - the Blues save a little face or the Hurricanes build momentum into the playoffs?

Playoff chances: zero

Join us for live updates of this week's NZ Super Rugby matches - Highlanders v Waratahs, Chiefs v Rebels, Hurricanes v Blues

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