Super Rugby - Round 18
Race for Super Rugby glory hots up
ESPN Staff
July 14, 2012
James Slipper celebrates the Reds' third try of the night, Reds v Waratahs, Super Rugby, Lang Park, Brisbane, Australia, July 14, 2012
James Slipper celebrates the Reds' third try on their way to topping the Australian conference © Getty Images

The Super Rugby play-off picture has been confirmed following a frantic final day of regular season action that saw title hopes preserved and dashed in dramatic fashion.

Super Rugby Finals Series

  • Super Rugby Qualifiers (July 21)
  • Reds (3) v Sharks (6) (KO 19:40 local)
  • Crusaders (4) v Bulls (5) (KO 19:35 local)
  • Super Rugby Semi-Finals (July 27/28)
  • Stormers (1) v Qualifier winner with lowest ranking
  • Chiefs (2) v Qualifier winner with highest ranking
  • Super Rugby Final (Aug 4)
  • Highest ranked semi-final winner v other semi-final winner

The Stormers and Chiefs will enjoy a week off having secured the top two spots in the overall table and will be keen observers of the opening round of the post-season that will see the Reds tackle the Sharks in Brisbane and the Crusaders take on the Bulls in Christchurch. The highest ranked side that emerges from those games will then travel to Hamilton to play the Chiefs with the other winner set to face the Stormers in Cape Town. The biggest losers in the shake-up were the Brumbies who began the day on top of the Australian Conference but ended it out of the play-off picture altogether.

The Stormers claimed top spot in the overall rankings and with it the No.1 seeding for the play-offs with a 26-21 win over the Melbourne Rebels at Newlands. Juan de Jongh scored twice as the far-from-impressive hosts edged out the Rebels to usurp the Chiefs at the top of the table and guarantee that this year's final will be staged in Cape Town should the Stormers come through their semi-final.

Allister Coetzee's side survived a nervous final ten minutes as the Rebels threatened to deliver the latest shock on a dramatic day of action. Cooper Vuna's converted try took the Rebels to within two points after scores from Rodney Blake and Nick Phipps had kept the visitors in the hunt. But Peter Grant struck with a penalty late in the game to ease the tension and take his personal tally to 16 points.

Earlier, defending champions the Reds seized on the Brumbies' final day slip-up to snatch the Australian Conference title and claim a place in the play-offs with a 32-16 victory over the Waratahs. The Brumbies' shock defeat to the Blues opened up the door for the Reds and they took full advantage by claiming a bonus-point victory in Brisbane that took them ahead of their rivals with their one extra victory this season the deciding factor.

However, fly-half Quade Cooper could miss the play-offs after he was cited for a high tackle. Captain Will Genia, who notched one of the Reds' five tries, said: "We spoke all week about trusting the process rather than focusing on the result. Things fell our way, I guess, but we worked hard all week for that result."

The Brumbies season faltered at the final hurdle with 30-16 defeat at home to the Blues in Canberra. The Blues, who have struggled all season, ran in three tries while the Brumbies failed to gain even a losing bonus point. White was clearly riled by his side's performance and inability to keep control of their fate. He said: "We went away from the plan as they kicked off. We gave them 14 points in 11 minutes. Everything we spoke about regarding us starting well and keeping them out of the game went out the window."

The Crusaders powered into the play-offs with a 38-24 victory over the Western Force in Christchurch. The Crusaders secured a bonus-point victory as they ran in four tries to finish the regular season fourth in the overall standings and claim a home tie in the first round of the play-offs.

The seven-time champions were 32-3 up by half time thanks to tries from Israel Dagg, Sean Maitland, Matt Todd and Andy Ellis. The Force restored some pride in the second half with tries from Alfi Mafi, Kyle Godwin and Josh Holmes but the Crusaders were never under serious threat and replacement Tom Taylor added two penalties as the big guns were brought off to rest up for the play-offs. Crusaders skipper Richie McCaw said: "We played with good intensity at the end of the first half and really had them on the ropes and it's a shame we couldn't continue it. We're back to square one next week but we've given ourselves a chance in the finals so we'll see how that goes."

The Sharks kept their season alive by coming back from a 15-6 half-time deficit to beat the Cheetahs 34-15 at Kings Park in Durban. A try from flanker Keegan Daniel sparked the comeback with a debateable second score from scrum-half Charl McLeod adding priceless momentum. Flanker Marcell Coetzee and No.8 Ryan Kankowski also crossed to power the hosts to an all-important result that lifted them into the play-off picture and ended the Hurricanes' feint title hopes.

The Bulls completed the line-up for the play-offs with a 37-20 victory over the Lions in Pretoria. Tries from Akona Ndungane and Bjorn Basson put the Bulls on course for victory but the visitors threatened to derail their title bid with scores from Michael Bondesio and Josh Strauss ensuring the two sides went into the break all-square. But tries from Francois Hougaard and Jaques Potgieter soon after the break put paid to the Lions' challenge and ensured the Bulls climbed into the play-off reckoning - knocking the Brumbies out of the picture in the process.

The Hurricanes had grabbed a lifeline with a last-gasp 28-25 victory over the table-topping Chiefs in Wellington on Friday night. Chiefs assistant coach Wayne Smith was unhappy with the award of a controversial try from hooker Dane Coles in the last act of the game that gave the hosts the win. He said: "Maybe the roles that they're assigning as TMO's have to be specialist roles just like the referees are. Maybe you need to have the right people there being trained and making the right decisions. There's got to be better way than just putting a ref in there and saying 'make a decision'."

Position Team Conference Points
1. Stormers (Q) South African Conference 66
2. Chiefs (Q) New Zealand Conference 64
3. Reds (Q) Australian Conference 58
4. Crusaders (Q) 61
5. Bulls (Q) 59
6. Sharks (Q) 59
7. Brumbies 58
8. Hurricanes 57
9. Highlanders 50
10. Cheetahs 38
11. Waratahs 35
12. Blues 32
13. Rebels 32
14. Western Force 27
15. Lions 25

Tie breaking rules

In the event of two or more teams being equal on competition points for any position on either the Conference or Super Rugby Standings tables, either during or at the end of the season, such position will be decided upon using the following steps until the tie is broken:

(a) Most wins from all matches; (b) Highest aggregate points difference from all matches; (c) Most tries from all matches; (d) Highest aggregate difference of total tries for versus tries scored against from all matches; (e) Coin toss.

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