Super 15 race goes down to wire

Super 15 rugby fans will have to wait until the final match of the tournament’s longest regular season to find out which six teams, of eight still in contention, will compete in the play-offs. That match, at Pretoria between the three-time champion Bulls and their South African compatriots the Lions, will furnish the last piece of the play-off puzzle.

Losses suffered by the first-placed Waikato Chiefs and the previously fourth-place Bulls in the 17th of 18 rounds have complicated the mix, meaning none of the eight teams still in play-off contention can entirely relax as the regular season concludes next weekend. What is certain is that the Chiefs will finish atop the New Zealand conference, despite their 28-21 defeat on Friday to the Canterbury Crusaders, and the Stormers will top the South African conference after the Bulls’ 32-10 loss to the Sharks and their own 13-6 win over the Cheetahs.

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The ACT Brumbies lead champions Queensland Reds by five points in the Australian conference after their 19-15 win over the New South Wales Waratahs on Saturday and the Reds’ 19-13 win over the Otago Highlanders. The Brumbies face the Auckland Blues and the Reds face interstate rivals the Waratahs in the final round, leaving little chance the Reds will be able to bridge the five-point gap between the teams and a much wider gulf of points differential.

The question of which teams will finish in first and second places, to earn a bye in the first stage of the play-offs, has still to be decided. The Chiefs still top the standings by a point from the Stormers, after taking a bonus point from their loss to the Crusaders. The Brumbies are in third place, four points behind the Stormers, and can still finish in first or second if either of the top two teams stumble.

The Chiefs face a testing last-round match against Wellington, who are eighth but only a point outside the top six. The Hurricanes were nudged out of sixth place when the Sharks beat the Bulls but can still reach the play-offs if they can follow up their most-recent win over the Crusaders with a home win over the Chiefs. The Stormers have a much easier assignment, at home to the 12th place Melbourne Rebels, who lost 37-32 on Saturday to the Johannesburg-based Lions.