McKay column: The last-round NRC finals equations

by Brett McKay

A really enjoyable 2019 National Rugby Championship season comes down to this: a really exciting final round, with so many permutations to decide the last two playoff spots.

The Western Force secured their finals berth with a win in Round 6 locking them into the top two, earning their first ever home semi-final despite having played in four NRC finals series in five seasons.

Canberra look safe for the finals, but aren't yet safe in the top two. Below them, third and fourth are a long way from being decided, too.

I gave myself a headache working through the equations for this weekend so that you don't need to.


WESTERN FORCE - 23 points from 5 wins, +48 points differential

Their five point buffer over Canberra in second means a win over Sydney at Woollahra Oval this Saturday will secure top spot, and with it, home ground advantage all through the finals.

Hard to see this not happening.

CANBERRA - 18 points from 4 wins, +19 points differential

A win over NSW Country tonight in Canberra will lock down second spot and a home semi-final next week.

But, there's also this: if the Force take no points from a loss to Sydney, a Bonus Point (BP) win over the Eagles would draw the Vikings level with the Force, meaning they'd need to cover the points differential gap to finish first, currently 29 points.

However, the Vikings are also still vulnerable to the four teams directly below them.

NSW Country would leapfrog them into second with a win tonight. A Vikings loss without BP and a Queensland Country BP win over the Drua in Fiji would see the Queenslanders overtake them as well.

Fiji and Brisbane City can both get to 18 points in BP wins over Queensland Country and Melbourne, respectively, and both currently sit within seven differential points of Canberra. A Vikings loss to the Eagles would make this gap smaller again.

A reminder: the NRC tie breaker for teams tied on competition points is points differential firstly, then the head-to-head result between the two teams, and in the case of a draw between the two sides, the most tries scored.

If Fiji and Brisbane City could both get to 18 points and Canberra take no points from a loss to the Eagles, it's possible the Vikings could miss the top four.

That tells you how close teams are, and how important wins are this weekend.

Jake Gordon dives over for the Eagles' opening try. Photo: QRU Media/Brendan Hertel

NSW COUNTRY - 16 points from 3 wins and a draw, +17 points differential

The Eagles can take second and claim a home semi-final with a win over the Vikings in Canberra tonight. 

But a loss will leave them similarly vulnerable to missing the top four as Canberra and for exactly the same reasons.

Even if NSW Country lost to Canberra with a BP tonight, Queensland Country would jump them with a win over Fiji, while both the Drua and Brisbane City could get to 18 points each with BP wins.

If two of the three teams immediately below them win, the Eagles can miss the top four.

QUEENSLAND COUNTRY - 14 points from 3 wins, -28 points differential

Win and they're in, probably.

Country can finish as high a third with a win and a Canberra or NSW Country loss, though they would need a BP win and the Vikings to take no points from a loss to the Eagles, thus allowing Queensland Country to get to 19 points.

A loss to Fiji would see the Drua replace them in the top four, while a win without a BP could see Country finish on 18 points, but would still allow Brisbane City to sneak past with a BP win over Melbourne and a far superior points differential.

FIJIAN DRUA - 13 points from 2 wins and 2 draws, +15 points differential

Must beat Queensland Country in Sigatoka, first and foremost.

A BP win would see them reach 18 points, which could have them finish as high as third if NSW Country lose, or even if Canberra lose without a bonus point - the Drua are only four differential points behind the Vikings, so bridging the gap wouldn't be difficult.

And differential points are going to be crucial with Brisbane City lurking, because their Round 1 draw means the second tie-breaker won't split them.

Brisbane City captain Fraser McReight charges through a gap in his side's Round 1 NRC clash against Fijian Drua. Photo: QRU Media/Sportography

BRISBANE CITY - 13 points from 2 wins and a draw, +12 points differential

If Brisbane City and Fiji both finish level on competition points, and City manage to draw level in points differential, then the third tie-breaker would be needed: most tries scored.

Currently, Brisbane City have scored 30 tries, Fiji have scored 29. This is where my headache started.

If City and Fiji finish level on competition points, differential points, their Round 1 draw, and the same number of tries, then I genuinely don't know how they would be split. City scored 4 tries to 3 in that Round 1 draw, so maybe that's it.

Like Fiji, City can also finish as high as third, but similarly, this is all moot if they don't beat Melbourne in Brisbane on Saturday, and probably with a bonus point.

Neither Melbourne or Sydney can make the NRC Finals.

Enjoy this final, fascinating round of the NRC.