Round 12 of the Super 14 saw the competition close right up as the Brumbies and the Hurricanes both picked up bonus point wins while the Waratahs, Reds and Crusaders all suffered heavy losses. The result is that we now have those five teams all between 34 and 32 points, meaning the final two weeks of the competition will be critical.
The Crusaders have the toughest run-in as they take on the Bulls and the Brumbies in their last two games and may have to rely on other results going their way.
The Reds have the Hurricanes and the Highlanders, two teams that they should beat, but also two teams playing with such confidence anything could happen.
The Waratahs are still to play the Chiefs and the Hurricanes. They will need to step up their efforts if they are to proceed through.
The Brumbies take on the Highlanders and the Crusaders, two games which will test them given the Highlanders form and the Crusaders desperation.
The Hurricanes play the Reds and the Waratahs, two teams they are capable of beating if they keep playing well.
1. The Bulls (1): Last Week: Won vs Sharks 27-19 Win/Loss: 9-2
The Bulls ended the Sharks five game winning streak as they beat them 27-19 to extend their streak at Loftus to 17 wins. The Stormers may be playing better rugby right now, but I can't drop the Bulls after a win, their Round 14 game will likely decide who comes out on top of these rankings.
Positives: Look to have secured a spot in the semifinals with the win. Great to see Bakkies Botha back on the field.
Negatives: Morne Steyn has been a bit off with the boot of late, in saying that he still scored 17 points.
2. The Stormers (5): Last Week: Won vs Crusaders 42-14 Win/Loss: 8-3
Wow. That pretty much sums up the Stormers performance against the Crusaders. They simply blew them off the park. Not only was their defence superb, their attack was brilliant. Jacque Fourie scored one of the best individual tries of the competition. They have the Sharks and the Bulls to come, but I'd still back them to claim a home semifinal.
Positives: There whole game in general looked good, particularly after coming off a loss to the Reds last week.
Negatives: Can't find any after that performance, just the fact that they have such a tough run in.
3. The Crusaders (3): Last Week: Lost vs Stormers 42-14 Win/Loss: 7-3-1
The Crusaders maintain their No. 3 spot due to the fact that the Reds and the Waratahs were both walloped as well. They were very uncrusader-like against the Stormers, just as they were against the Force. Things aren't getting any easier with the Bulls to come next week.
Positives: Only one more week left on the road. Still in with a top four chance, may have to rely on other results though.
Negatives: Their game in general over the past two weeks. 42 points against is horrible.
4. The Reds (2): Last Week: Lost vs Brumbies 32-12 Win/Loss: 7-4
The Reds dream run has finally come to an end as they were comprehensively beaten by the Brumbies. They were still in touch at half time but a poor finish saw the Brumbies run away with the game, notching up four tries. The Reds need wins in their next two games if they are to ensure they qualify for the semifinals, if they don't they leave their fate to chance.
Positives: They have two winnable games to come against the Hurricanes and the Highlanders but will need to be up for both as both teams are playing with a lot of confidence.
Negatives: They played poorly against the Brumbies, best to put it behind them and try to get back to their form they showed against the Bulls and Stormers.
5. The Waratahs (4): Last Week: Lost vs Highlanders 26-10 Win/Loss: 7-4
The Waratahs were bullied on Friday night as the Highlanders pushed them off everything. They hardly saw any ball and never really threatened, not managing a single point in the second half.
Positives: The Hurricanes and Chiefs are both beatable teams.
Negatives: Their forwards need to take a good hard look at themselves. They were awful as the Highlanders pushed them off everything.
6. The Brumbies (6): Last Week: Won vs Reds 32-12 Win/Loss: 7-4
The Brumbies have proven me wrong and are now right back in the finals race after a strong performance over a high flying Reds side. The Brumbies had only lost to the Reds once and didn't look too keen on letting it happen again. Prop Ben Alexander crashed over for two tries, continuing on in a fantastic Super 14.
Positives: A four try win sees that the Brumbies are right back in the race for the top four.
Negatives: They still have to play the Highlanders who can tend to be a bogey team for them, and the Crusaders who will be hungry on their return home.
7. The Hurricanes (9): Last Week: Won vs Chiefs 33-27 Win/Loss: 6-4-1
Like the Brumbies, the Hurricanes have proven me wrong and gotten up to score a bonus point win, putting them right back into contention for a semifinal spot. It was a thrilling game that the Hurricanes were behind in for a lot of. Hosea Gear and Ma'a Nonu combined for one of the tries of the season.
Positives: Looked dangerous with ball in hand and will give the Reds a good game next week.
Negatives: Decision making at times seems to be lacking. Picking and Going 25 meters out from their own line in the middle of the park when your up by one with a couple of minutes to go seems like madness. It nearly cost them too.
8. The Sharks (7): Last Week: Lost vs Bulls 27-19 Win/Loss: 5-6
The Bulls ended the Sharks play-off hopes with a 27-19 win. Despite a strong start, they weren't able to cross the line until the final five minutes which proved to be the difference between the two sides.
Positives: They weren't bad against the Bulls and were always going to be up against it at Loftus.
Negatives: Semifinals look highly unlikely now.
9. The Blues (8): Last Week: Lost vs Cheetahs 36-32 Win/Loss: 5-6
The Blues were unable to secure an away win over the Cheetahs which ended their semifinal hopes. After a slow start, the Blues fought back hard in the first 20 minutes of the second half. They couldn't keep this up however and eventually lost by four points.
Positives: Scored four tries.
Negatives: A loss to the Cheetahs is poor, even if it was in South Africa.
10. The Chiefs (10): Last Week: Lost vs Hurricanes 33-27 Win/Loss: 4-6-1
For the second week in a row, goal kicking has cost the Chiefs. Callum Bruce hooked one with only two minutes to go which could have secured a win for the Chiefs. Instead the Hurricanes ran the length of the field to score in the corner.
Positives: Scored four tries and were exciting at times.
Negatives: Goal kicking.
11. The Force (11): Last Week: Won vs Lions 33-12 Win/Loss: 4-7
The Force have carried on their good form with a win over the Lions. Despite their poor form this year, the Lions cannot be taken lightly at home and the Force did a good job of putting them away. I've seen enough in the past few weeks to know that the Force could be a very competitive team next year.
Positives: They have won four of their last five games.
Negatives: Still have two games to go in South Africa.
12. The Highlanders (12): Last Week: Won vs Waratahs 26-10 Win/Loss: 3-8
The Highlanders looked very good against the Waratahs as their forwards got stuck in and hit the Waratahs hard, pushing them off everything and never letting them into the game. It just shows you what this side is capable of when they put their mind to it. In saying that, the Highlanders perform well at the end of the season every year, once the pressure is off.
Positives: Their forwards were outstanding, special mention to Jason Rutledge who was everywhere.
Negatives: The win is once again too little to late for the Highlanders.
13. The Cheetahs (13): Last Week: Won vs Blues 36-32 Win/Loss: 3-7-1
The Cheetahs have beaten the Blues on their return home to South Africa. The win was their first since their round four win over the Hurricanes. It may be another case of too little too late, but a win is a win and the Cheetahs will take it.
Positives: Good to see a win from the Cheetahs, five tries was a bonus.
Negatives: A poor middle of the season sees that the Cheetahs will struggle to make it out of the bottom four on these rankings.
14. The Lions (14): Last Week: Lost vs Force 33-12 Win/Loss: 0-11
Nothing is going right for the Lions this year. 0-11 speaks for itself.
Negatives: 0 wins.