The 2013 Super Rugby season has been a marvel to watch for the last seven months or so, but it’s only now that matters really start to heat up.
This weekend, the Crusaders play hosts to the Queensland Reds in the first qualifying fixture before the Cheetahs, then travel to Canberra to take on the Brumbies.
Awaiting them in semifinal are the top two finishers from the regular season, the Chiefs and the Bulls, who finished in first and second respectively.
Read on to find out just when and where you might hope to catch some of what promises to be some of the most entertaining southern hemisphere rugby this year.
Crusaders vs. Reds
When: Saturday, 20 July, 3:35 a.m. ET/8:35 a.m. BST
Where: AMI Stadium, Christchurch, New Zealand
Watch: Sky Sports 1 (UK), DIRECTV (USA), Fox Sports (AUS)
The first post-season match of the year pit fourth against fifth respectively as Crusaders look to continue the strong run of form with which they ended the campaign.
With the British and Lions Tour now in the rear view mirror, James Horwill and Will Genia give the visitors a huge boost by their returns to fitness.
The visiting side are certainly geared up for their massive clash this weekend, professing their club support on Twitter:
However, the home side have a big return of their own and are expected to welcome Richie McCaw back from his six-month sabbatical from rugby.
All three players have the potential to be the difference in this game, not to mention the other stars set to dazzle in what looks like the closer of Round 21’s matchups.
Brumbies vs. Cheetahs
When: Sunday, 21 July, 2:10 a.m. ET/ 7:10 a.m. BST
Where: Canberra Stadium, Canberra, Australia Watch: Sky Sports 1 (UK), DIRECTV (USA), Fox Sports (AUS)
During the regular season, the Brumbies played every team in the South African conference except for the Central Cheetahs, winning two, drawing one and losing the other of those fixtures.
Now facing the fifth and final of their western opponents this term, Jake White will be hoping it’s a case of third time’s the charm against the second-placed team of the South African contingent.
Of the previous seven meetings between these two franchises, it’s this weekend’s hosts who have won the majority with five, the Cheetahs prevailing on just two occasions.
Chiefs vs. Lower Ranked Qualifier Winner
When: Saturday, 27 July, 3:35 a.m. ET/8:35 a.m. BST
Where: Waikato Stadium, Hamilton, New Zealand
Having completed a late Round 20 turnaround, the Chiefs sewed up Super Rugby’s top-place finish at the close of the regular season, giving them not just home advantage in the semi-final, but a lower ranked opponent, too.
Due to the knockout format of the tournament, surprise results aren’t to be considered out of the question, leaving the forum open as to which team may be just yet.
Bulls vs. Higher Ranked Qualifier Winner
When: Saturday, 27 July, 11:05 a.m. ET/16:05 p.m. BST
Where: Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria, South Africa
Unfortunate to be beaten at the final hurdle, the Bulls relinquished top spot in the final chapter of the season after they lost to the Stormers 30-13, much to the disappointment of coach Frans Ludeke.
The Crusaders and Brumbies will be considered favourites for their respective fixtures this weekend, meaning one of the two will be more likely to meet the Bulls—set to play the higher ranked of the qualifiers—in their semi-final.
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