Super 14 race for semi spots climaxes - Sports News - Fanatics - the world's biggest events

Super 14 race for semi spots climaxes

By Darren Walton 15/05/2008 03:28:26 PM Comments (0)

Expect the NSW Waratahs to be huddled around television screens urging on the Auckland-based Blues on Friday as a tense final round battle for Super 14 semi-final spots gets underway.

The third-placed Waratahs are among six teams jostling for the three remaining semi-finals positions and also have one eye on a priceless home semi if they can finish second.

Climaxing with the very last game of the round between the Sharks and Chiefs in South Africa early Sunday morning AEST, the fight to secure a top-four berth alongside the table-topping Crusaders will almost certainly go down to the wire.

While the Crusaders are guaranteed to host one semi-final in Christchurch in two weeks' time, the location of the other sudden-death playoff is anyone's guess, with Wellington, Sydney, Cape Town, Durban and Auckland all possibilities.

The top four teams entering round 14 are fancied to clinch finals spots and it is most likely the Crusaders will play the fourth-placed Stormers in their home semi at Jade Stadium, with the second-placed Hurricanes to host the Waratahs in a repeat of their 2006 knockout clash at Westpac Stadium.

But a home triumph for the sixth-placed Blues over the Hurricanes at Eden Park on Friday night would really throw a spanner in the works.

The Blues are the bookmakers' favourites in the all-New Zealand fixture and will have the Waratahs cheering them home in the pivotal opening game of the round.

Should the Hurricanes falter, their fate would rest with other results and NSW could sneak into second spot and nab a home semi-final in Sydney - where they are six from six in 2008 - with victory over Queensland at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday night.

Even if the Hurricanes prevail, the Waratahs would still be certain to qualify for the playoffs with a fourth consecutive derby win over the Reds.

Defeat for the Waratahs, though, would be season-ending if the Stormers, as expected, account for the Lions in Johannesburg on Sunday morning and the Sharks then down the Chiefs.

While the Crusaders are safe and Hurricanes and Waratahs each control their own destiny, the Stormers could conceivably win - and thus remain unbeaten for a seventh successive week - but still miss the finals.

The fifth-placed Sharks could leapfrog their countrymen into the top four with a bonus-point victory over the Chiefs, or even by simply scoring a more clearcut win than the Stormers, who are clinging to a narrow points differential advantage over last year's tournament runners-up.

Like the Sharks, the Blues can finish anywhere between second and seventh on the ladder but can only make the playoffs with a bonus-point win in addition to denying the Hurricanes a bonus point of their own.

The Blues would then need the Waratahs to either lose or draw without scoring any bonus points and hope both the Stormers and Sharks fail to notch bonus-point wins.

The seventh-placed Chiefs are the only other team with a mathematical playoff chance, but need a series of unlikely results to go their way.

The only side to conquer the Crusaders this season, the unpredictable Chiefs must post a massive bonus-point victory over the Sharks and rely on the Waratahs losing without collecting a bonus point plus sweat on the Stormers and Blues not winning or drawing with a bonus point.

The only certainty all weekend is the playoff picture becoming a whole lot clearer after the Blues-Hurricanes showdown on Friday night starting at 5.35pm AEST.

The exact semi-final line-up will not be known until about 5am Sunday AEST.

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