Waratahs coast while others sweat on playoffs

RICHARD KNOWLER
Last updated 05:00 04/07/2014
Michael Cheika
Getty Images
TURING THINGS AROUND: Waratahs coach Michael Cheika.

Relevant offers

Super Rugby

Ngani Laumape has the physical attributes to fill Hurricanes' midfield void next season Northland's Dan Hawkins chuffed to sign with Melbourne Rebels Chiefs assistant coach Andrew Strawbridge released from Waikato Hopsital Carlos Spencer has claims to be in the Blues coaching mix Richard Graham intent on keeping Queensland Reds coaching job Melbourne Rebels sign Irish international prop Jamie Hagan on two-year contract Ben Smith spurns tattoo, but keen to achieve ultimate double-banger Carlos Spencer leaves Kings as Super Rugby doubts surface Lock Culum Retallick leaves New Zealand rugby for Melbourne Rebels Taranaki halfback Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi signs two-year deal with Hurricanes

Three months ago a foul-mouthed eruption at a South African cameraman had Waratahs coach Michael Cheika wondering if Sanzar were going to rub out his coaching career.

Now Cheika is the envy of all other Super Rugby coaches, save Sharks mentor Jake White.

These days Cheika sleeps easy, knowing his top-placed Waratahs (on 48 points) are one of only two teams - White's Sharks (45) being the other - guaranteed a finals spot inside the top-six qualifying bracket, and that all the pressure is on a chasing pack containing the Crusaders (42), Highlanders (42), Hurricanes (41), Brumbies (40), Force (36), Blues (36) and Chiefs (36).

Forget the Bulls, Stormers, Reds, Lions, Rebels and Cheetahs because they are toast.

The Force, Blues and Chiefs have the most to lose in this weekend's penultimate round-robin games.

But so tight is the leaderboard that even if they get beaten their chances may not be obliterated. That's because the sixth-placed Brumbies have the bye and cannot add more points to their account.

To suffer a defeat would be a major blow for the Force, Blues and Chiefs, but not securing a losing bonus point (or potentially two) would be catastrophic.

If the Waratahs remain unbeaten in their remaining fixtures against the Highlanders and Reds, they will collect the minor premiership and host a home semifinal in Sydney - and the final if they survive.

That should soothe the fiery Cheika, who copped a six-month suspended ban and was ordered to pay Sanzar costs of $6000 for repeatedly telling a TV cameraman to "f... off" during a match against the Sharks in Durban in late March.

The Sharks are guaranteed to finish top of the African conference, and away wins over the Cheetahs and Stormers would see them secure a vital top-two berth and home advantage in one semifinal.

A single victory against the Blues and Highlanders, both in Christchurch, is likely to ensure the Crusaders again qualify, but they have loftier aims.

Finishing in the top two, not just at the top of the New Zealand conference, remains their goal. Past experiences, when forced to travel for three semis and a final since the format was extended to 15 teams in 2011, prove how difficult it is to win a title if you finish in the bottom four and have to play in the "quarterfinals".

The Highlanders have the most difficult run home, against the Waratahs and Crusaders (both away), and there is a real risk their fairytale resurgence this season will be demolished by two highly motivated sides.

Ad Feedback

Last weekend's 16-9 win over the Crusaders has given Hurricanes' fans optimism coach Mark Hammett can mark his exit to Cardiff with a crack at the title. They will need luck on their side because, like the Brumbies, the Hurricanes have just one match left because of the bye.

Defending champions the Chiefs require a minor miracle.

Even bonus-point victories over the Hurricanes and Blues may not be enough for them to secure a three-peat due to their weak win-loss ratio.

- The Press

Special offers
Opinion poll

Which 2015 NZ Super Rugby team looks best?

Blues

Chiefs

Crusaders

Highlanders

Hurricanes

Vote Result

Featured Promotions

Sponsored Content