Thu, May 25, 2023, 1:23 PM
Nathan Williamson
by Nathan Williamson

The Australian teams face a crucial final fortnight of the 2023 Super Rugby Pacific regular season as they look to put themselves in contention for the finals.

All five sides are still mathematically in contention, with several key match-ups set to decide their fates.

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If the season concluded today, it would be an even split between the Australian and New Zealand teams with Brumbies, Waratahs, Reds, and Force in the top eight.

The Rebels occupy a chasing pack that is looking to put pressure on those final two teams that include the Highlanders and Fijian Drua.

Whilst the Kiwi sides dominate the top positions on the ladder, it all means nothing come finals time. Look at the NBA & NHL, where their playoffs are currently dominated by eight seeds Miami Heat and Florida Panthers respectively whilst the sixth and final seed Philadelphia Phillies made the MLB finals last October.

With this in mind, breaks down the finals scenario for every Australian team in 2023.

Current Standings
1. Chiefs - 50 2. Crusaders - 42 3. Brumbies - 41 4. Blues - 38 5. Hurricanes - 37 6. Waratahs - 31 7. Reds - 23 8. Force- 22 9. Highlanders - 19 10. Fijian Drua - 17 11. Rebels 16 12. Moana Pasifika 3

*If teams are tied at the end of the season, teams will be decider by:

a) Most wins from all matches b) Greatest points-difference c) Most tries from all matches d) Greatest tries-difference e) Coin toss

ACT Brumbies (third, 41 points): Fight for Home Final
Saturday 27 May: Brumbies v Chiefs, GIO Stadium, Canberra (7:45pm)

Friday 2 June: Brumbies v Rebels, GIO Stadium, Canberra (7:35pm)

The Brumbies' top two aspirations took a major hit with their defeat to the Western Force, with an understrength side never recovering from a slow start.

It allowed the Crusaders to leapfrog them into second position on 42 points, with Scott Robertson's side holding the tie-breaker on points difference.

Stephen Larkham's men can make a major statement with a win over the first-placed Chiefs, although likely need some help from either the Waratahs or Hurricanes to restore their spot in the top two.

The minor premiership is mathematically a possibility, although would need the Crusaders to lose to either of those teams and the Chiefs to fall to the Force.

It will likely see them finish third, gifting them a home final potentially against their arch-rivals Waratahs

NSW Waratahs (sixth, 31 points): Figuring out their QF destiny
Saturday 27 May: Crusaders v Waratahs Orangetheory Stadium, Christchurch (2:35pm)

Saturday 3 June: Waratahs v Moana Pasifika, Allianz Stadium, Sydney (7:45pm)

The Waratahs locked their place in the finals with their four straight win in a row last week against the Fijian Drua.

It's a remarkable turnaround from the first six weeks, finding themselves in 11th position after just one win.

You'd expect them to finish with victory over last-placed Moana Pasifika although they will need to produce an incredible performance to defeat the Crusaders this week in Christchurch

More likely than not, they will stay in sixth. They are six points behind fifth-placed Hurricanes and eight ahead of the Queensland Reds.

This lines them with a potential trip to Canberra, Auckland or Wellington; three places where they haven't won in a considerable time.

They won't say it out loud after their opening-round defeat but Darren Coleman's men will be secretly hoping for another shot at the Brumbies after their narrow loss a couple of months ago.

Queensland Reds (seventh, 23 points): Battle for Survival
Friday 26 May: Highlanders v Reds, Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin (5:05pm)

Saturday 3 June: Fijian Drua v Reds, HFC Stadium, Suva (2:35pm)

The Reds find themselves at the top of a battling pack fighting for the last two spots in the finals.

They are four and six points ahead of the Highlanders (ninth) and Fijian Drua (tenth) respectively, who they will finish their season against.

A win over the Highlanders is massive and probably the most important result from an Australian Rugby perspective, giving the Force some valuable breathing room (we'll get to them).

If they lose, they need a bonus point. Pending results with the Force-Rebels, defeat without a bonus could see them fall out of the eight.

They finish the year with arguably the toughest away fixture in Super Rugby Pacific (and maybe club Rugby) with the Fijian Drua in Fiji.

The Drua can keep their finals hopes alive with a win over the Blues and whilst the ladder positioning of both teams may suggest otherwise, you only have to ask the Crusaders how dangerous the Drua are at home.

Regardless of their win record (currently sitting at 5-7), if the Reds can qualify for the finals, they would've 100% earned it given their run home.

Western Force (eighth, 22 points): Control their destiny
Friday 26 May: Rebels v Force AAMI Park, Melbourne (7:35pm)

Saturday 3 June: Force v Chiefs, HBF Park, Perth (10pm)

The Force finds itself in a similar position to last year, although won't have to wait around for other results.

They narrowly missed out on last year's finals to the Highlanders, needing the Rebels to score late to prevent a bonus point for the Otago-based side.

Their win over the Brumbies means there won't be a repeat and victories in their final two matches will secure their place and potentially see them leapfrog the Reds into seventh.

A win over the Rebels can secure their spot in the finals if the Reds defeat the Highlanders.

Defeat will leave them with the tough task of beating the Chiefs in the final game of the regular season. The Force are unbeaten at home for a reason - they lift in front of their 'Sea of Blue' and could face a rotated Chiefs side if they have top spot locked up.

They only just have a better points difference than the Highlanders, whilst enjoying a comfortable buffer over the Drua and Rebels if tied at the end of the year.

Melbourne Rebels (11th, 16 points): Hope for results
Friday 26 May: Rebels v Force AAMI Park, Melbourne (7:35pm)

Friday 2 June: Brumbies v Rebels, GIO Stadium, Canberra (7:35pm)

The Melbourne Rebels need several results to go their way if they wish to play finals.

Last week's heartbreaking defeat to the Highlanders was a major blow to their hopes, taking destiny out of their hands.

They need to defeat the Western Force and ACT Brumbies to give themselves a chance and hope the Highlanders and Fijian Drua drop both games.

Kevin Foote's side will enter the end of the season still with confidence after narrow losses to both teams.

They went down in round one to the Force in Perth after taking a commanding lead in the first half.

Meanwhile, they pushed the Brumbies until late in Melbourne, denied a late try to win the game.