RUGBY: New Zealand’s dream of providing all four teams for the Super Rugby semi-finals has been denied but it still appears a Kiwi outfit will claim the title.
After the Crusaders and Chiefs experienced mixed fortunes in South Africa, the last four have been set for the debut season of the expanded competition.
The top-qualifying Hurricanes will host the Chiefs in Wellington next weekend, while the defending champion Highlanders will travel to Johannesburg for an encounter with the Lions.
Kiwi fans had hoped their country’s dominance would set up a couple of semi-final clashes on their shores, but the Crusaders were ousted by an impressive Lions outfit.
Todd Blackadder’s reign as Crusaders coach came to a disappointing end with a 42-25 defeat, finding the task too difficult after last week’s loss to the Hurricanes sent them on the road.
The Chiefs had no such problems in Cape Town, demolishing the Stormers 60-21 in an outstanding attacking effort.
Dave Rennie’s team must travel to Wellington to face a Hurricanes outfit in irrepressible form, following their win over the Crusaders with an equally comprehensive 41-0 shutout of the Sharks.
“We’ve fallen out at this stage (of the playoffs) the last couple of times,” Rennie said.
Chasing their first Super Rugby title, the Hurricanes will have to overturn the 28-27 defeat by the Chiefs at the Cake Tin in April.
If the Hurricanes win, the final will be in Wellington. If it’s the Chiefs, they will be playing away in the competition showpiece. And the team standing in the opposite corner will be determined on Sunday morning at Ellis Park.
The Highlanders’ arduous travel schedule that could eventually catch up to them.
Jamie Joseph’s men in recent weeks have gone from South Africa to Argentina to New Zealand to Australia, where they beat the Brumbies 15-9 on Friday night.
But heading back to the Republic, they will be determined to defend their title and potentially setting up a replay of last year’s decider against the Hurricanes.
Of course it could so easly have been the Brumbies progressing, if not for a disallowed match-winning try to Lausii Taliauli in the 75th minute in Canberra.
“We should be in the semi-finals right now,” Brumbies coach Stephen Larkham said.
“It’s hard for me not to comment on the refereeing but I can’t see how Lausii didn’t score that try.
“I don’t know where the benefit of the doubt goes but I can’t see any other answer to what happened there.”
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