Super 15 Rugby is back with Round 20 of 2013's competition.
This is the final confirmed set of games before six teams enter the playoffs, meaning a last-ditch win could make all of the difference. Can Australian players bounce back from defeat against the British and Irish Lions for a late flurry? Will the pressure-filled schedule prove too much?
Round 20 Draw and Start Times
July 12—Crusaders vs. Hurricanes, AMI Stadium, Christchurch, New Zealand. K/O Time: 3.45 a.m ET.
July 12—Rebels vs. Highlanders, AAMI Park, Melbourne, Australia. K/O Time: 5.40 a.m ET.
July 13—Blues vs. Chiefs, Eden Park, Auckland, New Zealand. K/O Time: 3.45 a.m ET.
July 13—Waratahs vs. Reds, ANZ Stadium, Sydney, Australia. K/O Time: 5.40 a.m ET.
July 13—Force vs. Brumbies, NIB Stadium, Perth, Australia. K/O Time: 7.45 a.m ET.
July 13—Sharks vs. Kings, Kings Park, Durban, South Africa. K/O Time: 11.05 a.m ET.
July 13—Stormers vs. Bulls, Newlands Stadium, Cape Town, South Africa. K/O Time: 1.10 p.m ET.
Cheetahs are given a bye for this round.
An interesting round of fixtures could pose a number of questions for the top sides. Bulls, Chiefs, Brumbies and Reds all face away matches against opposition they will be confident of overcoming, meaning we have a number of potential upsets on our hands.
Although comfortable in second place, Chiefs need to improve on last week's 43-15 loss to Crusaders if they are to stay ahead of the chasing pack. A local derby against Blues promises to be a scrappy affair, especially as both teams arrive in poor form. Can Ali Williams and his men overcome recent mishaps in order to topple Chiefs' chance of leading the New Zealand division?
While Bulls face a tough match away at Stormers, the current leaders will be confident of finishing the regular campaign with a win. Last week's match saw them overcome Sharks 20-19 in a tightly fought contest at the Loftus Versfeld Stadium, and they can now play without too much pressure.
Elsewhere, a gaggle of teams can secure progression to the playoffs with one last victory. Reds and Brumbies will be looking to consolidate their positions after taking a rest during Round 19's busy pack of fixtures.
Are you tipping any major upsets this week? Who will cruise beyond their opponents? Let me know in the comments section below, and be sure to discuss it with me on Twitter.
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