In a best case scenario, the Australia conference will see two teams qualify for the Super Rugby finals but only one can claim top the conference and ensure a home final. So who will it be?
Rugby.com.au look at the run home for all five Australian teams.
The Brumbies are currently on top of the Australian conference, equal on points with the Waratahs, but with a superior points difference keeping them ahead. The Brumbies have arguably the easiest draw out of the five Australian teams with two home games against opposition well below them in the pecking order. You’d expect the Canberra side to win all three and most likely top the Australian conference.
Matt Toomua made a successful return to the Wallabies last weekend after recovering from an injured knee that kept him sidelined for the past seven weeks and will be a vital addition in the Brumbies race to the finals. He will be a steady head to support co-captain Christian Lealiifano, with the experienced pair likely to have the Brumbies backline humming in no time. The backline will also welcome back speedster Joe Tomane from a long injury layoff.
You’d expect the Brumbies to win all three matches, but one thing Australian teams have struggled with this season is winning on New Zealand soil. The Brumbies’ match in two weeks against the unpredictable Blues could end in disaster if they’re not at the top of their game.
Run home: Reds (H), Blues (A), Force (H)
The Rebels are coming off a much-needed break, having finished their run into the June Test series in disappointing fashion. The Rebels were topping the Australian conference at the end of round 10 but the Waratahs and Brumbies have since surpassed the Melbourne side.
Mike Harris injured his hamstring in the Rebels round 14 win over the Force which inevitably ruled him out of the Wallabies tour. While struggling with injury this season when fit, Harris has added composure and experience to a young Rebels backline. While he may not be right this weekend, we will see the capped Wallaby in Super Rugby before the season ends.
After such an impressive start the season, the Rebels looked on the rise and they will be looking to put a midseason collapse behind them and finish on a high. A lot was expected from the young Rebels side at the beginning of the season, and anything less than two wins from their remaining three matches will cause headaches in the off-season.
Run home: Stormers (H), Crusaders (A), Reds (A)
The Reds are out of finals contention but we saw glimpses of promise from a rejuvenated Queensland outfit in the month prior to the June break. Their stars such as Samu Kerevi, Nick Frisby and James Slipper have been in ominous form of late and their time in the Wallabies camp will bring confidence to all.
The Queensland Reds might not have much to play for in their remaining three matches, but could welcome back some key players who are bound to be the backbone of their 2017 season. Reds fans will have the opportunity to see Kane Douglas in a Reds jersey for the first time in the next few weeks having overcome an ACL injury, while Leroy Houston will don the Red jersey for the first time since 2011 having returned from England last month.
Injuries have plagued the reds in the past two seasons and they’ve had yet another blow, with vice-captain Rob Simmons ruled out for up to a month with an AC issue. Another bout of bad luck would be a hit the Reds simply don’t need as they look to salvage pride.
Run home: Brumbies (A), Chiefs (H), Rebels (H)
The Waratahs were starting to hit their straps heading into the bye and will return to Super Rugby having won five of their last six matches. It’s a tight race to see who tops the Australian conference and only a clean sweep of their final three matches will ensure they make the playoffs. Their biggest danger in that is a Round 16 match against the Hurricanes.
The Waratahs welcome back Taqele Naiyaravoro from his short stint with Glasgow for the remaining three matches, however the Flying Fijian won’t be eligible to play finals should the Waratahs qualify. He replaces the departed Zac Guildford and adds bulk and intimidation to the Waratahs’ relatively small backline.
Can the Waratahs cover the loss of Kurtley Beale? A knee injury in round 12 ended his Super Rugby season and left a major void in the Waratahs side, with the dynamic playmaker forced to watch on from the sidelines. David Horwitz and Rob Horne both tried to fill Beale’s shoes before the break, with Horne the incumbent . Beale’s absence makes the Waratahs’ finals chance just a little bit harder.
Run home: Sunwolves (A), Hurricanes (H), Blues (A)
The Force parted ways with head coach Michael Foley during the break after a disastrous start to the year, leaving assistant coach Dave Wessels to step as Interim coach for the remaining three games. The Force have a winnable game on the road against the Cheetahs and anything is possible at home against the Stormers. Wessels will just be looking for his side to be competitive for the remainder of the season.
The Force will welcome back Jono Lance to their side this week after 14 weeks on the sideline with a pectoral injury. Lance showed composure and skill in the opening rounds of the season and his goal kicking will be a much-needed asset for the struggling Force.
The mentality of the Force could be the biggest obstacle for the WA side for the rest of the year. It has been well-documented that the players were disappointed with the news of Foley leaving the club, and if anything this should galvanise the team. On the other hand, it could lead to a collapse and some big margins could go against the Force.
Run home: Cheetahs (A), Stormers (H), Brumbies (A)