After seven months of compelling action, the field in the 2013 Super Rugby season has been whittled down to just a few teams left to vie for the championship in Round 22.
Kicking off the action this weekend is a promotional relegation contest between the Southern Kings and the Golden Lions. The two teams will play their first of two games on Friday, July 26 to determine which of them will be the fifth South African team in next year's Super Rugby competition, as noted by SkySports.com.
Then, on Saturday, July 27, the four teams left in the field will compete in the semifinals to determine which of them moves on to play in the Super Rugby final on August 3.
Here's a look at the full schedule for this weekend's activities.
Super Rugby Promotion/Relegation Playoff
Teams: Kings vs. Lions
When: Friday, July 26, at 12 p.m. ET/18:00 BST
Where: Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth, South Africa
Watch: Sky Sports
Super Rugby Semifinals
Teams for Game 1: Chiefs vs. Crusaders
When: Saturday, July 27, at 1:35 a.m. ET/7:35 BST
Where: Waikato Stadium, Hamilton, New Zealand
Watch: Sky Sports
Teams for Game 2: Bulls vs. Brumbies
When: Saturday, July 27, at 10:05 a.m. ET/16:05 BST
Where: Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria, South Africa
Watch: Sky Sports
Kings vs. Lions
Though not officially part of the Super 15 this season, the stakes are high for these two teams on Friday.
The Kings replaced the Lions in Super Rugby this year, as noted by SkySports.com, and finished the season at the bottom of the table with just three wins. As noted in the opening, the winning team in this relegation playoff will earn the right to become the fifth Super Rugby team from South Africa next year.
The Kings will be without two of the team's top players in Luke Watson and Andries Strauss—both of whom are out with injuries.
On the other side, the Lions will be happy to have a few key players returning to action, as Franco van der Merwe, Martin Bezuidenhout and Elton Jantjies are back after being loaned out to other clubs.
The stakes are high for these teams, and you can be sure an all-out effort by both sides will lead to some fierce action on the pitch on Friday.
Chiefs vs. Crusaders
After winning the championship last year, the Chiefs are right back in the thick of the title chase again this year. Judging by the team's history against the Crusaders, however, getting back to the final will be an arduous task.
As noted by SkySports.com, the Crusaders have an historic edge over their rivals, winning two-thirds of the contests against the Chiefs, though the Chiefs have won three of four recently, including last year's semifinals clash.
Two weeks ago, these two powerhouses lined up across the pitch from one another in a contest the Crusaders handled with ease on their home turf. When the dust had settled, the Chiefs suffered a miserable defeat as the Crusaders won by a score of 43-15.
After being ravaged by injuries throughout the season, the Chiefs enter this contest relatively healthy after resting last weekend in what was essentially a bye week. It's a good thing, too, because this upcoming contest will be a brutally physical affair that will require nothing but the best of efforts to win.
Bulls vs. Brumbies
In what should be a closely contested match, the South African champion Bulls will host the Australian champion Brumbies to see which team makes it to the finals next weekend.
The two sides met up once during the regular season, with the Brumbies earning a narrow victory over the Bulls, 23-20. Historically, the Aussies have been superior to the South Africans, winning nine of 15 times.
That said, this is a home game for the Bulls, who have won five of eight contests against the Brumbies at Loftus Versfeld. The home team will be going with a few changes to the lineup, as a few players who were injured will finally be ready to compete.
As noted by SkySports.com, the Brumbies haven't been to the finals in nine years. Jake White liked what he saw from his squad in its narrow victory over the Cheetahs leading up to the match, and he'll be rolling out the same 22 players he did in that contest.
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