The Super Rugby Playoffs are finally upon us, and only six teams remain. These being the Reds, Stormers, Crusaders, Blues, Waratahs and Sharks.
2011 sees the first time the competition will take a new format, straying away from the traditional top four semifinals then final format.
This year, it's more complicated, so just to clear up any confusion, I will quickly run through how it all works.
The top two qualifiers (the Reds and Stormers) get the first week off. The third and sixth placed teams will play each other (Crusaders and Sharks), and the fourth and fifth placed teams will also meet (Blues and Waratahs), with the highest placed team getting the home game.
The two winners will then advance to the semifinals, where the highest placed winner will take on the Stormers in Cape Town and the lowest placed winner plays the Reds in Brisbane.
The winners of this will meet in the final, where the champions will be crowned.
One of the more interesting things about this year's playoffs will be this new format and how it impacts the outcome of the competition.
For example, is it really an advantage to have a week off after qualifying top? In different competitions where this format has been used, it has seen the sides that played the week before carry momentum through, while the teams that had the rest struggle to get up. Whether this is an issue in Super Rugby is a different question. It could be that due to the extra travel, a week off may be a much needed refresher. Only time will tell.
How the teams will match up is, as always, another big question. While the round-robin gives us a good idea, teams can get up for the finals while others have gone cold, meaning that it will come down largely to who's the best on the day.
In this article, I will look at each team's chances and how the new format will effect them individually, while also looking at each team's strengths and weaknesses in relation to the others. This will make the way forward clearer for the six teams who will do battle in what promises to be an epic playoffs series.