No more ‘dancing’ as Playoff spots sealed in Super Rugby Finals Series

No more 'dancing' as Playoff spots sealed in Super Rugby Finals Series
DURBAN, SOUTH AFRICA - JULY 14: Matias Moroni and Juan Manuel Leguizamon of the Jaguares tackling Lukhanyo Am of the Cell C Sharks during the Super Rugby match between Cell C Sharks and Jaguares at Jonsson Kings Park on July 14, 2018 in Durban, South Africa. (Photo by Steve Haag/Gallo Images/Getty Images)

There will be no more ‘dancing’ as the Playoff spots were sealed this weekend, before the Super Rugby Finals Series next weekend, with the quarter-finals places cemented.

After 19 weeks of action, the results across seven fixtures meant that the conference winners were all confirmed. As the outcome of the last match was factored, it meant the final Wildcard place ensured two South African, one South American, one Australian and four New Zealand teams would all face off in the Super Rugby Finals Series for 2018.

No more ‘dancing’ as Playoff spots sealed in Super Rugby Finals Series

The ‘dance of the Wildcards’ was an intriguing complication, with nine sides fighting it out for only eight finalist spots. And while only one side (the Melbourne Rebels) were removed, the top three places did change order.

Obviously, nobody could alter the finish for the Crusaders. Their commanding place was assured virtually before the June Internationals window, but such an incomparable team only had to ‘pass by’ the under-achieving Blues, to cement a form-finish.

But, for the all important second place, it was still ‘up for grabs’.

As that second place also assures the top qualifier a home semi-final, it is an incredibly influential one. In any conference-based system, home advantage counts for much. So when the Saturday night derby game between the NSW Waratahs and the ACT Brumbies resulted in an ‘against all forecasts’ win for the visitors, it counted badly against the New South Welshman.

That outcome was compounded when the Emirates Lions did what most had anticipated. They held firm against the Vodacom Bulls, and thus made a South African conference teams’ grand final place, one step closer.

Playoff dance continues until very last Super Rugby fixture

After 18 weeks, the competition was still just as intense this weekend – but still, just as unclear. All season, only the very tip had been clear, whilst in the mid-pack there was more bump-and-grind than on a Sydney nightclub dance floor.

Not until the final regular season fixture would the Super Rugby finals series be settled.

In the early hours of Sunday for Australian fans, when the Cell C Sharks defeated the Jaguares 20-10, fans and tournament organizers could finally write down the names of the final eight sides. And that meant that one team from Africa were all smiles….as a team from Melbourne could only look on at what could have been.

And while the excitement for those teams contrasted the disappointment of the Melbourne side [who missed out on their maiden Super Rugby finals series place on an aggregate calculation] it was soon all replaced by an new attention. One to the planning, the logistics, and the increased motivation levels now required.

Quarter-finals assured – Super Rugby Finals Series

So accommodation, flights, and scheduling aside, it will all come down to motivation. The 2018 quarter-finals fixtures are assured. It is two matches in New Zealand, one in Australia, and one in South Africa. What fans might call a ‘fair spread’. Or….is it?

Four finalists from New Zealand. And a exciting local derby to open the Super Rugby finals series – Hurricanes host the Chiefs – it all sounds too familiar, yes. And that is a constant which no amount of changes to the conference system to begin the year, has managed to correct. Because, four New Zealand teams is the one constant in recent Super Rugby Finals Series most rugby fans acknowledge.

They earn their places, with so many ferocious local derby games; which test their metal. Yet still sees all but the Highlanders, score more competition points than any of the chasing teams.

The Kiwi teams are so dominant, that while the conference system assures an Australian and South African team places, it has not [and could not] assure any team of their final placing’s.

Jaguare secure place in first ever Super Rugby Finals Series

But gladly, fans will see one new side enter the Super Rugby Finals Series. The Buenos Aires-based Jaguares have claimed an all important position at the ‘top table’. A huge boost for the South American nation, but also a endorsement for the selection process which SANZAAR considered in late 2017, on which teams to remove from the 2018 season.

While extremely hard on the likes of the Western Force, by the Jaguares earning their quarter-final match against the Lions, it is a nod to the respectability that the Pumas-heavy side. Bueno!!

While a degree of strategy saw some Jaguares players rested, there is no discounting the long sequence of wins. That included four wins on the road – an incredible accomplishment. So next weekend, the South American nation will hold it’s breath – hoping that the rugby side perform better than their Football team did at the recent World Cup.

And thinking of all the quarter-finalists, it is all their effort over the last 19 weeks which should be valued most – not the upcoming weeks. This final weekend was the culmination of long periods of goal setting. From bye rounds, to the June break. All that combined effort has only secured eight teams a place…..not yet, a finish.

So as the recent ‘playoff dance’ has ended, it might naturally lead to more excitement for fans. That dance soon becomes a furore, with the top eight teams all hoping to direct 110% of that teams effort toward qualifying for the next stage; the Super Rugby semi-finals.

Fans can rest assured, the excitement is not over yet!

So while those positions cannot yet be confirmed, watching these eight professional sides ‘fight it out’ in these knockout rounds of Super Rugby will be extremely entertaining. And, that is the best possible scenario, when SANZAAR look at any future changes. It might still be an imperfect competition…. but it is certainly one of the best on the planet.

“Main photo credit”
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