Super Rugby: All the permutations of the final round of the regular season
By Keith Moore
Last Updated: 12/07/18 1:29pm
The Jaguares, the Rebels and the Sharks all stuttered in the penultimate round last weekend, and though the Argentines have secured their play-off place, they are now relying on other results to help them top the South African conference.
If the south Americans beat the Sharks, and the Bulls beat the Lions, then the Jaguares could top the conference and host a home quarter-final.
However the Sharks will be in no mood to help anyone else out; if they lose in Durban they will miss out on a play-off place - unless the Rebels beat the Highlanders earlier in the day, in which case Robert du Preez's side will be out even before kick-off.
Confused? Here's what each team needs in the final weekend of regular-season fixtures...
Chiefs vs Hurricanes
July 13, 2018, 8:30am
Chiefs v Hurricanes (Friday, 8.30am on Sky Sports Action)
The Hurricanes' 42-24 win over the Blues last week puts them fourth overall on 50 points, and in all likelihood that should be enough to cement fourth place. However, the next best team are the Chiefs on 45 points, and with the game being played in Hamilton they could prove a handful.
The Waikato franchise could snatch fourth spot, and therefore a home quarter-final, if they win by at least 23 points with a try-bonus point. It won't be easy; the Hurricanes beat the Chiefs 25-13 in round nine earlier in the season, but the Mooloo Men will be buoyed by the news that second rower Brodie Retallick is back in the selection mix after recovering from a shoulder injury.
The likely scenario is that these two sides will face off in the quarter-finals regardless of Friday's result, will that have a bearing on each side's mindset in the final round?
Reds v Sunwolves (Friday, 10.40am on Sky Sports Action)
There is nothing riding on this game with both sides out of contention for this year's knock-outs. The Reds cannot improve their position of 13th out of the 15 teams, while the Sunwolves are guaranteed last place in the standings after winning just three out of their 15 fixtures so far.
However, the Reds are one of the three sides to lose to the Sunwolves this season, and they didn't just lose, they were hammered. Hosea Saumaki scored a hat-trick of tries as Japan's Sunwolves mauled the visiting Reds 63-28 in Tokyo on the 12th of May.
The Reds will be without legendary flanker George Smith, who has failed to recover from injury in time for the clash, with the former Wallaby missing out on a farewell match as he heads to Bristol from Brisbane next season.
Highlanders v Rebels (Saturday, 6.10am on Sky Sports Action)
The Rebels had a chance to secure their quarter-final spot a week early, but they fell to a disappointing 37-23 loss to the Reds at Suncorp Stadium last week. They now travel to the 2015 Champions in need of a win in order to guarantee a play-off place - the feeble reward for which could end up being an away quarter-final against eight-time champions the Crusaders.
Highlanders vs Melbourne Rebels
July 14, 2018, 6:10am
If the Sharks lose to the Jaguares then the Rebels don't need to win to qualify for the knock-outs, but a potentially easier quarter-final draw awaits them if they do win handsomely.
If the Rebels win with a try-bonus point and starve the Highlanders of a losing bonus point, then the Australians could finish above the 'Landers. If the Jaguares then beat the Sharks, it would mean eighth place for the Highlanders, and they would be the ones to travel to Christchurch next week.
Crusaders v Blues (Saturday, 8.30am on Sky Sports Action)
Neither of these sides would benefit from a win on Saturday, but for very different reasons. The Blues can't finish any higher than 13th at best, and if the Reds beat the Sunwolves then Tana Umaga's men will finish second-last regardless of their result - one place above the Japanese side.
It's been a horrid season for the Blues, who have won just four games so far this season, and only one of those was away from home, so their trip to Christchurch will not be one they relish.
The reverse is true for the Crusaders who have swept all before them to sit eight points clear of their nearest Kiwi rivals, and 14 points ahead of the Waratahs who are the next-best conference winners. It's been an immense season for Scott Robertson's side, who have lost just two games in 2018 - the Hurricanes and the Highlanders winning their respective clashes at home.
Waratahs v Brumbies (Saturday, 10.40am on Sky Sports Arena)
The Waratahs have sown up the Australian conference, so they will have a home quarter-final no matter what happens this weekend. But if they are victorious on Saturday then they will finish the regular season in second place overall, which would mean home ties in all knock-out games that don't involve the Crusaders - depending on how far they make it. If they lose and the Lions lose, the Waratahs will still finish second.
The Brumbies are currently in tenth spot, but could actually sneak into eighth if they win with a bonus point in Sydney, the Sharks lose in Durban, and the Rebels pick up no points in a big loss to the Highlanders.
Waratahs vs Brumbies
July 14, 2018, 10:40am
In reality the Brumbies may well have left too much to do, and the best they can hope for is a ticket to Christchurch where nobody has won this season, but either way expect this Australian derby to offer plenty in terms of quality.
Lions v Bulls (Saturday, 2pm on Sky Sports Arena)
The Bulls have failed to live up to any of their pre-tournament hype, and after six wins from 15 games so far, they will sit out the knock-outs even if they beat the current South African conference leaders in Johannesburg.
The Lions' poor Australasian tour in the middle of the season has added pressure to their end-of-season run-in. They suffered a loss to the Sharks two weeks ago despite leading by ten points at half-time, and their bye last week has allowed several teams around them to cover ground in the standings.
The Lions will hope they can see off the Bulls at Ellis Park, and the Brumbies beat the Waratahs, to give them as much home advantage as possible in the knock-out stages.
Lions vs Bulls
July 14, 2018, 2:00pm
Sharks v Jaguares (Saturday, 4.10pm on Sky Sports Arena on the Red Button)
Everything aligned in the Sharks' favour last week. They needed the Bulls to beat the Jaguares and the Reds to beat the Rebels in order to give themselves a chance to get into the play-off places. The Bulls and the Reds duly delivered, but the Sharks then limped to a 27-16 loss to the Stormers in Cape Town which leaves them stranded in ninth.
If the Durban outfit are to finish the season in eighth - the best they can now hope for - they have to win on Saturday and hope the Rebels lose.
The Jaguares have qualified for the knock-out stages of Super Rugby for the first time in their history, but they could go one better and top the conference if they beat the Sharks and the Bulls do them a favour in Johannesburg.
Saturday's visitors have won many fans with the way they have played this season, and would be an incredibly tough prospect for any side that has to travel to Argentina to face them in the knock-outs. It all means there is plenty on the line in the last two fixtures of the weekend.