We're down to the final four teams vying for the 2014 Super Rugby title, the single biggest rugby union tournament in the Southern Hemisphere. The opening round of the play-offs featured two close, hard-fought matches that went down to the wire, and fans can expect much of the same on Saturday.
Defending champions Chiefs won't make it three titles in a row, losing a thriller against the Brumbies, via Super Rugby's official Twitter account:
That means the Brumbies will travel to the Allianz Stadium for a classic derby against the Waratahs, in a re-match of the 2002 semi-finals, the last time two Australian teams met at this stage of the competition.
The Sharks survived a close encounter with the Highlanders in Durban during the opening round, and they now face a daunting trip to Christchurch to take on the Crusaders.
Here's the full information for both semi-finals, as well as predictions for Sunday's action.
|Date||Time (BST)||Time (ET)||Match||Live Stream|
|July 26||8.35 a.m.||3:35 a.m.||Crusaders v Sharks||Sky Sports Go|
|Juy 26||10.30 a.m.||5:30 a.m.||Waratahs v Brumbies||Sky Sports Go|
Bye Week Will Have An Impact
Both the Brumbies and the Sharks had to give it their all during the opening round of the play-offs, barely surviving their respective fixtures to advance to the semi-finals. They'll now have to travel to Sydney and Christchurch, respectively, and take on teams that are fresh and rested.
The Brumbies took an early lead over the Chiefs and were expected to cruise into the semi-finals, but outside their forwards, the team fell asleep in the second half and wasted a lot of energy just preserving the win.
As for the Sharks, they played a very physical contest against the Highlanders and were only saved by two late penalties from Frans Steyn. Jamie Joseph liked what he saw from the Sharks, but gave the advantage to the hosts heading into the semi-finals, per Supersport.com's Gavin Rich:
All I can say is that it will be a ripper. Look, what I can tell you is that the Sharks will be up against a complete team, a team that plays complete rugby and doesn’t have many weaknesses. The Sharks, the Stormers, the Bulls, the Lions and the Cheetahs, they all have similar strengths and way to win games, but then there are areas where they aren’t as good as other teams.
For all of their strength on the line out drive, the Sharks' defence has shown signs of weakness. Controlling the scrum against the Highlanders is one thing—doing it in Christchurch against a rested Crusaders squad is a whole different matter.
Home-Field Advantage Will Play Big Role in Derby
Yes, the Waratahs led Super Rugby in points scored, conceded less than any other team and have won seven in a row. On Sunday, none of that will matter. The emotions of a derby and the high stakes will make sure this match stands apart.
The teams split the series during the regular season, each winning their home fixture in a relatively comfortable manner. There won't be anything comfortable about Sunday's match, but that home-field advantage could be crucial.
Via the team's Twitter account, there will (understandably) be a massive crowd on hand for the match:
Neither team really has an advantage when it comes to momentum. Health concerns are virtually equal, and there's no real gap in talent. The Waratahs' are fresher—the Brumbies just eliminated the defending champions.
With so little separating the two teams, every small advantage counts. Playing in front of a vocal home crowd fired up for the biggest Australian derby in 12 years is more than just a small advantage, and it will be vital in determining Sunday's clash.
Sharks Won't Repeat Christchurch Heroics
The Sharks' epic win over Crusaders in pool play is one of the lasting memories of the past Super Rugby season. Down to 14 men within the first 20 minutes and losing a second player late in the match, the South African visitors somehow found a way to record their first-ever win in Christchurch.
The hosts were simply dumbfounded. The scrum wasn't working, none of the wingers took advantage of the extra space and when it was all said and done, both fans and players were left in shock, wondering what had just happened.
Great teams learn from their mistakes, and the Crusaders are undoubtedly great. Kieran Read, Andy Ellis, Daniel Carter and Israel Dagg were all unavailable for that match, and all of them will be defending the red and black on Sunday.
With a host of All Blacks taking up the forward spots, the Crusaders will be able to match the Sharks' proficiency at the line out and scrum. Those two facets were crucial in the South Africans' win over the Highlanders, who had no answer for the raw power.
The hosts won't have to alter tactics—they'll match the Sharks' physicality and look to be a lot more creative and faster with their passing than they were when they hosted their rivals during pool play.