OPINION: I'm still scratching my head trying to figure out how it happened but somehow Super Rugby has contrived to produce a semifinals showdown featuring the competition's four best teams and each one could go all the way.
The last month has bordered on a nightmare for Sanzar administrators as they grappled with everything from flawed TMO processes to controversial decisions such as the Reds hosting a playoff most believed they were not entitled to. Those controversies had a serious impact on who played whom, when and where in the finals.
There's almost some justice that the two best New Zealand sides face each other while South Africa's two best teams duke it out. I don't know if it's fate or fortune that has thrown up such a salivating semis scenario - also guaranteeing a New Zealand v South Africa final - but the fans will be as thrilled as the organisers (all except the Australians of course).
If the Stormers, who convinced me when they came to New Zealand that they are a genuine contender, defeat the Sharks and thereby secure a home final, Chiefs supporters may still feel miffed about the impact the controversial loss to the Hurricanes will have had on their championship quest.
The team most sides don't want as opposition in a finals scenario is the Crusaders. The Chiefs' preference would have been for a jaded or tired South African or Australian side. Instead they will face a confident and proven finals force who will arrive an hour after stepping on a plane.
But the Chiefs' destiny is in their own hands. And if the Sharks do upset the Stormers, and the Chiefs win they will have the home final they believed they were destined for before the TMO saga. That's something the Crusaders understand.
Chatting to their CEO Hamish Riach before the game, I mentioned the poor crowd turn-out. Hamish said he understood the reasons but, more importantly, pointed out that all within the Crusaders environment were willing the Sharks to keep winning.
"If they keep winning and we keep winning, we're back in Christchurch for one more game - the final," he explained.
And on the evidence of the Sharks' mauling of the Reds in Brisbane on Saturday night, who's to say that won't happen?
They're mobile, full of powerful ball runners and know how to win away games, so won't be daunted by going to Cape Town.
The Stormers and the Sharks are the African title contenders I had expected the Bulls to be. Instead, this year's Bulls proved to be cumbersome plodders obsessed with kicking the ball to the opposition.
The street savvy Crusaders lapped it up, setting their line, running good blocking lines and punishing a Bulls outfit for their tactical naivety. The Bulls didn't offer a shot all night.
The Crusaders won't have it as easy in Hamilton. As they showed when they were down 20-6 in their last encounter and clawed back, this is a far more resilient Chiefs outfit than the past.
The Bulls didn't know how to climb back into the game last Saturday night. The Chiefs do. It's going to be a cracking showdown.
The Reds worked hard to get into a position to defend their title and were ultimately assisted by a fortuitous series of results and a hosting anomaly.
But they were never quite convincing and although Australians will be miffed the competition still has a fortnight to go and they have no contenders, they shouldn't be - their teams haven't aimed up this year.
The only light at the end of their tunnel is that Robbie Deans will get his players earlier than expected for the upcoming Rugby Championship series. On the evidence of their Super Rugby performances, Robbie is going to need every bit of time he can get with them. On the other hand, the All Blacks selectors couldn't be happier.
They get to see the two best New Zealand teams go head-to-head in a white-hot, parochial atmosphere in a high-stakes knockout game.
I'll be especially interested in the halfback battle. The All Blacks will take three halfbacks on the end-of-year European tour. The selectors have had a good look at Piri Weepu and Aaron Smith and with T J Perenara out injured, I'm pretty sure that third No 9 will be either Andy Ellis or Tawera Kerr-Barlow.
Then there's the locks battle where we get to see if Craig Clarke can advance his dark horse European tour claims alongside Brodie Retallick up against Luke Romano, Sam Whitelock and company. Steve Hansen must be grinning from ear to ear.
- © Fairfax NZ News