The Mercury

Play-offs beckon, but for whom?

THREE SA TEAMS CAN MAKE IT TO THE KNOCKOUT STAGES, ALTHOUGH IT’S MORE LIKELY TO BE ONLY TWO, BUT WHICH TWO?

- Tim Whitfield

THERE are two ways for South African teams to qualify for the play-offs of the Super Rugby competitio­n.

The best is by finishing top of the South African conference, with the best two conference winners hosting home semi-finals.

The second way South African teams can qualify is by finishing as one of the wildcard teams – the best three teams on the overall log who are not conference winners.

With three rounds to go, the Stormers and the Sharks are in line for play-off places, but what do they need to do to stay in contention, and what chance do the Bulls, Cheetahs and Lions have of qualifying?

Stormers: 52pts; Currently conference leaders; 3rd overall Today: Away v Rebels June 11: Home v Bulls June 18: Away v Cheetahs Stormers are in pole position to top the conference and host a play-off, but a top-two position in the combined log earns a direct path to a home semi-final, so three wins are still crucial for them. Victory over the Bulls at home next weekend should have the added bonus of killing any hopes the Bulls have of topping the conference log.

Sharks: 47pts; 2nd

in conference; 5th

overall Tomorrow: Away v Cheetahs June 11: Away v Lions June 18: Away v Bulls The crowded nature of the combined log from fourth to eighth means the Sharks have to win three from three and, depending on bonus points, might still not qualify for a play-off place. To top the SA conference, the Sharks need the Stormers to slip up at least once, but depending on bonus points, probably twice.

Bulls: 45pts; 3rd in conference; 7th overall Today: Home v Waratahs June 11: Away v Stormers June 18: Home v Sharks The Bulls have a tough finish, but the flipside of that is all three of their opponents are fighting for similar positions on the log, so each win could remove a challenger from the equation. Three wins and they should at least qualify for the play-offs, but they need the Stormers to lose another game as well to top the conference.

Cheetahs: 34pts; 4th in conference; 9th overall

Tomorrow: Home v Sharks June 11: Bye June 18: Home v Stormers Cheetahs have no chance of a play-off place, but with matches against the Sharks and Stormers they have a key role to play in deciding who gets to the play-offs. Lions: 23pts; 5th in conference; 14th overall

Tomorrow: Away v Hurricanes June 11: Home v Sharks June 18: Bye Their mission is to remain off the foot of the log. With a bye they have four points guaranteed. They could scupper the Sharks’ hopes of a play-off if they can beat the KZN franchise next week.

How the play-offs work: At the end of the round robin stage the winners of each conference (the best team from each country) automatica­lly go through to the play-offs (in the order from the combined table as Winner 1, Winner 2, Winner 3).

The three best teams who are not conference winners will go through to the play-offs as wild card teams (Wildcard 1, Wildcard 2, Wildcard 3).

The top two conference winners (on the overall table) will host semifinals, the third winner and the top-ranked Wildcard will host quarterfin­als. Quarterfin­als (home team first): Winner 3 v Wildcard 3 (Quarter 1) Wildcard 1 v Wildcard 2 (Quarter 2)

Semi-finals (home team first):

Winner 1 v winner of Quarter 2

Winner 2 v winner of Quarter 1 Final Semi-final winners (highest-ranked team has home-ground advantage).

 ?? PICTURES: GALLO IMAGES ?? Victor Matfield and Schalk Burger want to lead their teams into the play-offs and hopefully at the top of the South African conference.
PICTURES: GALLO IMAGES Victor Matfield and Schalk Burger want to lead their teams into the play-offs and hopefully at the top of the South African conference.
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