Blues, Hurricanes in contest for top-4 place in Super Rugby Pacific
Thu, May 25, 2023
Other News (AP)
WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) - The Auckland-based Blues and Wellington-based Hurricanes will meet Saturday in a match that likely will decide which team will host a home quarterfinal in Super Rugby Pacific.
The Blues are in fourth place and the Hurricanes are in fifth spot as the tournament heads into the 14th of 15 regular-season rounds.
Only a point separates the Blues and the Hurricanes and the winner likely will be assured of a top four finish and the right to host a quarterfinal match to kick off the playoff stages.
The Hurricanes still have the defending champion Crusaders to play in the 15th round which makes their need for a win on Saturday more imperative. They are well-placed in any countback for places with the third-best points differential in the championship, 16 points better than the Blues.
The continuing volatility in the quarterfinals race is reflected in the fact the Hurricanes still can finish as high as second place or as low as sixth, depending on their last two results.
The Hurricanes' form has been inconsistent in recent weeks. They followed a shock loss to the Fijian Drua with a record win over Moana Pasifika, then lost to the league-leading Chiefs last weekend in another mediocre performance.
The Blues' form also has waxed and waned. They needed a late penalty try to beat winless Moana Pasifika by a point, lost to the Christchurch-based Crusaders, then produced a good win last weekend over the Queensland Reds who, a week earlier, had stopped the Chiefs' 10-match winning streak.
"(This) game against the Hurricanes is a big one," Blues coach Leon MacDonald. "We're jostling for positions and someone will leapfrog somebody else.
"We want to be playing at home (in quarterfinals), so it's really important."
History shows that home advantage is significant in Super Rugby playoff matches: only around 20% of playoffs have been won by visiting teams.
The Chiefs bounced back from a streak-ending loss to the Reds to beat the Hurricanes last weekend and solidify their hold on first place in the standings. At the same time, the ACT Brumbies lost to the Western Force after fielding an under-strength team and dropped back from second to third place.
The Crusaders now are second, but eight points behind the Chiefs.
The Chiefs and Brumbies meet in Canberra on Saturday in a match which prior to last weekend would have been 1 vs. 2. It will still play a major role in deciding the leading positions: the top two teams at the end of the regular season enjoy home advantage as long as they remain in the playoffs.
The Crusaders are at home on Saturday to the New South Wales Waratahs.
The match will be a test of depth for the Crusaders who have now lost prop Joe Moody for the rest of the season, the third All Blacks representative they have lost to injury during the tournament.
Head coach Scott Robertson, who has had to work hard to find a replacement for Moody, said props "are a rare breed."
"They are precious," he said. "You don't have a game of rugby without a front row and a ref."
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