For many teams, Round 20 signals the end of the Super 15 season. However for those fortunate to be perched near the top of the league, it’s only just beginning. Here we preview the final set of fixtures.
July 13: Blues vs. Chiefs, Eden Park, Auckland, New Zealand. K/O Time: 3.45 a.m ET.
The Chiefs still have it all to play for. Victory would land them an automatic semifinal spot and potentially first place in the league if the Bulls slip up against the Stormers. They were crushed 43-15 by Crusaders recently and will need to bounce back quickly to avoid ending up in the sudden death playoffs.
The Blues have nothing but honour to play for, and Sky Sports have reported four changes to their side as they look to end a five-match losing streak.
July 13: Waratahs vs. Reds, ANZ Stadium, Sydney, Australia. K/O Time: 5.40 a.m ET.
The Reds must negotiate a tricky away clash with the Waratahs before facing the lottery of the playoffs. With Australian sides not playing during the Wallabies recent Lions Tests, rustiness is bound to be a factor although both sides enter the clash on the back of solid wins.
Waratah’s coach Michael Cheika dispelled any idea that his team wouldn’t treat the match in a competitive manner, as reported by ABC.net. “So there's a lot stake for us,” Cheika said on Thursday. “I was saying to the boys that if we can beat the Reds this week, we're going to finish with the same number of wins as them.”
July 13: Force vs. Brumbies, NIB Stadium, Perth, Australia. K/O Time: 7.45 a.m ET.
The Brumbies enter their clash with Western Force knowing that victory could help them sneak an automatic semifinal spot. They currently sit third, two points behind the Chiefs in second, and have won three straight games. Colby Faingaa is rewarded with a starting berth at the expense of Wallabies international George Smith, according to the Herald Sun.
They recorded a historic victory over the Lions in their last match and are clear favourites against a Force side already destined to finish bottom of the Australian Conference.
July 13: Sharks vs. Kings, Kings Park, Durban, South Africa. K/O Time: 11.05 a.m ET.
Basement side Kings already know their fate lies in a two-legged play-off against Lions which will determine their Super 15 status. They can still claw themselves off the bottom of the overall table with victory though.
The Sharks have nothing but pride to play for against their South African rivals and will still be reeling from their recent dramatic 20-19 defeat to the Bulls. Riaan Viljoen missed a late kick in that game and will hope to make amends this time out.
July 13: Stormers vs. Bulls, Newlands Stadium, Cape Town, South Africa. K/O Time: 1.10 p.m ET.
One victory is all the Bulls need to grab top spot in the league and a place in the semifinals. They face a Stormers side intent on crashing the party after seeing their own playoff dreams crushed last time out.
The Bulls make three changes, according to Sky Sports, as they seek a 10th straight success in the league. It will be interesting to see how their nerves hold after their nail-biting victory over the Sharks, though.