Super 14 - Round 14 Preview
Super 14 gears up for explosive finale
Scrum.com
May 14, 2009
The Bulls' Pierre Spies is congratulated after scoring a try, Bulls v Reds, Super 14, Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria, South Africa, February 14, 2009
The Bulls are sitting at the top of the Super 14 going in to the final round © Getty Images
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It's due to be a cracking weekend in the final round of this year's Super 14 and dramatically there are still seven teams in contention for the semi-final spots.

The table is topped by the Bulls and they will be holding out for a win against the Sharks to secure themselves a home semi-final in our Game of the Week in Durban on Sunday.

Once again it's the New Zealand teams providing the serial challenge and the Chiefs, Hurricanes and Crusaders lie in second, third and fourth respectively. Outside of the top four - there are three teams poised to take advantage of any slip ups.

The standings going in to the final round are:

Bulls - 42
Chiefs - 41
Hurrianes - 39
Crusaders - 37
Brumbies - 37
Sharks - 36
Waratahs - 36

Ian Foster's Chiefs side can reach the knock out stages for the second time in their history on Friday when they host the sixth-placed Brumbies in Hamilton in the first game of the round on Friday. Just a bonus point would do to secure them a place but a victory would guarantee them a home semi-final.

"Probably the best thing about it is getting your game out there, doing the best you can and then sit back and see what everyone (does)," Muliaina said. "The good thing that we know is that our destiny is in our own hands. If we do it right on Friday we can sit back and hopefully make the semi-finals."

The availability after injury of All Blacks halfback Brendon Leonard means they are at full strength, and he returns to a team buoyant due to their consistently high standards attained during the past two months. Leonard is one of just two changes from the starting XV who beat the Hurricanes 16-8 in Hamilton last Saturday. Prop James McGougan has been named at tight-head, with Ben May shifting to the loose-head side and Sona Taumalolo dropping to the reserves bench. Centre Richard Kahui has been cleared to start after picking up a bruised calf against the Hurricanes.

The Brumbies will be hopeful of stopping the in-form Chiefs and know that a bonus-point win would guarantee their inclusion in the mix. Clyde Rathbone returns to the side in place of Gene Fairbanks - who's out with a hamstring tear. Tyrone Smith moves to inside centre while Brumbies captain and Super Rugby's leading points scorer of all-time, Stirling Mortlock, resumes his customary role at outside centre.

There are two changes to the pack as Julian Salvi starts at blindside flank while Stephen Moore retains his starting place at hooker despite not starting last week due to a hamstring injury.

There's nothing left to play for in the competition for the Lions players other than potential Springbok slots against the British and Irish Lions when they take on the Waratahs in Johannesburg on Friday. They're currently in 11th on the table a place behind the Highlanders on points difference.

The Springbok No. 15 jersey is up for grabs but Earl Rose won't get a starting chance to impress the selectors after being dropped to the bench. His place has been taken by Dusty Noble on the wing while Louis Ludik, who last week switched positions mid-game with Rose, starts in his preferred fullback position. Star players Jaque Fourie and Cobus Grobbelaar still haven't recovered from injury so they miss the last game of the season.

The Waratahs have named an unchanged side to the one that beat the Sharks 16-12 last week and they still have an outside chance of qualifying for the semi-finals. They're currently on 36 points but 7th on the log and behind the Sharks on points difference.

They've been boosted by the news that scrum-half Brett Sheehan is able to play after initially being cited for a hit on Brad Barritt last week. Sheehan starts on the bench and if he should come on then he'll earn his 50th Super Rugby cap before he heads to the Brumbies next season.

The ninth placed Blues host the play-off chasing Crusaders in the first game on Saturday. The Blues have been ravaged by injury of late but have announced at least an unchanged backline from last week's loss to the Brumbies. That means that Chris Smylie, Newcastle Falcons-bound Jimmy Gopperth, Isaia Toeava, Joe Rokocoko, Rene Ranger and Rudi Wulf form the back division.

In the pack stalwart flanker Justin Collins, who has missed much of the campaign recovering from concussion, is finally available but bracketed with Peter Saili at blindside flanker. There was some uncertainty surrounding prop Tony Woodcock but he will start, giving the Blues scrum some stability in concert with fellow All Blacks John Afoa and hooker Keven Mealamu.

The Crusaders have hauled themselves off the canvas to put themselves in contention for the playoffs and currently sit in fourth on the table. They would be confident of defeating a Blues side with little to play for and suffering from injuries. A big loss will be their All Black lock Brad Thorn who's injured his hamstring in training and will be replaced by Michael Paterson with Ross Fillipo promoted to the bench. Richie McCaw leads the side.

The Hurricanes have named an unchanged team for their visit to the Reds on Saturday where they just need a win over the 13th-placed Reds to secure their semi-final spot. On the bench flanker Karl Lowe replaces Faifili Levave.

Reds coach Phil Mooney has selected Berrick Barnes at fly-half while other injury concerns fullback Mark McLinden (knee), flank Ezra Taylor (knee) and captain James Horwill (foot) have all been passed fit to play.

The Force and the Highlanders are both out of contention and perhaps the most telling aspect of this match is that it will be the last time that the Force play at the Subiaco Oval before they move to the rectangular Members Equity Stadium next season. It will be final appearances for Tai McIsaac and Scott Staniforth, Matt Giteau, Drew Mitchell, Tamaiti Horua and Josh Valentine are all leaving the franchise.

For the Highlanders Daniel Bowden returns from a one-week suspension following a dangerous tackle on Sharks centre Riaan Swanepoel two weeks ago. In other changes Fetu'u Vainikolo returns in place of Kenny Lynn on the left wing while George Naoupu comes in at No 8 for Steven Setephano.

The round finishes off with two tasty South African derbies, including the Bulls trip to Durban.

In the first however, Stormers lock AJ Venter's career comes to an end at the same ground where it started 12 years ago when they take on his former side the Cheetahs. There's only one change to the side that snuck a 25-24 win over the Western Force last weekend as Wicus Blaauw comes in at prop for JD Moller who misses out due to a family bereavement.

The Stormers are in 12th spot on the table 2 places above the competitions wooden-spoonists the Cheetahs. Naka Drotske has made just one change with Sarel Pretorius replacing Tewis de Bruyn after he was banned for a dangerous tackle last week against the Bulls.

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