After 13 rounds, we’re coming to the end of the Super Rugby season (punctuated by the month-long International series break), with the ACT Brumbies, NSW Waratahs and Queensland Reds still a chance to win the Australian Conference.
Let’s put it in perspective; the highest-ranked Australian team (Brumbies) sits 10th overall. New Zealand have dominated, with four teams (Canterbury Crusaders, Wellington Hurricanes, Waikato Chiefs and Otago Highlanders) in the top six. The Auckland Blues (the “worst” NZ team in seventh overall) can get a finals wildcard spot.
The rules of the bloated 18-team comp says every conference winner qualifies for the finals, so which Australian team will make it?
We can put a big line through the Melbourne Rebels and Western Force. With just one win and a draw, the Rebels have been awful, not helped by the uncertainty over their future. The Force, with three wins and eight losses (13 points), are in trouble but not completely out of it, with their final four games against the Reds (Brisbane), Hurricanes (Perth), Rebels (Perth) and Waratahs (Perth). They should beat the Rebels, but that’d be it.
Let’s focus on the Brumbies, Waratahs and Reds.
Brumbies (first, 4-7, 23 points) = after a tough season, the Brumbies have a decent run home and they can find some momentum after the vital win against the Kings at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium. The Brumbies travel to Argentina to play the Jaguares before local derbies against the Rebels (Canberra) and Reds (Brisbane). Their final game, against the Chiefs in Waikato, is their hardest. Mark the Brumbies down for at least two wins, which should be enough to seal the Australian title and their fifth straight finals berth.
Waratahs (second, 4-7, 19 points) = like the Brumbies, the Waratahs have struggled, earning their fourth win (50-23) over the Rebels today. The Waratahs play the Highlanders and Chiefs in New Zealand, before a much-needed home game against the Jaguares and trip to Perth against the Force. No Australian team has beaten a New Zealand team this season, so the Highlanders and Chiefs games are almost certain losses. The home game against the Jaguares isn’t a lay up either, considering the Waratahs bombed their home game against the struggling Kings. They should finish on a high against the Force though, but will miss the finals for the second straight year.
Reds (third, 3-8, 16 points) = aside from 2011, the Reds have been underachievers, though they still find themselves in the finals race. The Reds have two home games – against the Force and Brumbies – split by tough New Zealand trips against the Blues and Highlanders. The Reds should beat the Force comfortably, but probably won’t beat the Brumbies.
Based on this, the Brumbies will claim the Australian conference with at least six wins, possibly seven (depending on their Argentina trip) and a likely quarter final at Bruce Stadium. On current form, their season will end there, but let’s see what happens.