Top four finalised, race is on for home advantage   10 May 2006

Ellie van Baaren

Round 13 all but finalised the top four but upset losses for the Brumbies and Waratahs means the race for the home advantage at the semis and final stages is wide open. ELLIE VAN BAAREN looks at the penultimate Super 14 round.

Anyone who wrote the Crusaders off before round 13 following their draw with the Force and loss to the Stormers was forced to eat their words at the weekend as they returned to form in ending the Bulls’ playoff hopes, winning 35-17. However the best part of the round was seeing both the Waratahs and the Brumbies – two of the four likely semifinalists – stumble against the Chiefs and Highlanders respectively, both of which are well out of playoff contention. The results have set up a mouthwatering round this weekend as the four top teams take on each other to decide the final rankings.

Crusaders captain Richie McCaw was rested again for his team’s clash against the Bulls and unlike the round before, they didn’t seem to miss their leader.

McCaw’s replacement, 19-year-old Tanerau Latimer, played with maturity and control, scoring two tries in the process, while stalwart Daniel Carter was back to his best. The first five-eighth kicked 15 points to top the scorers’ leader board with 179 points.

The Crusaders take on a Gregan-less Brumbies outfit in their final match in Christchurch and if they win then they secure home advantage for the final, should they win their semi.

The Brumbies now need at least a bonus point from that clash after they fell to the 10th placed Highlanders in Canberra.

The southerners finally managed to banish the errors that have blighted the second half of their Super 14 campaign and snatched a 28-26 win when Ben Blair kicked a 40m penalty two minutes from full time. It was the first time the Brumbies had been beaten at home this season.

The Brumbies are now only five points ahead of the Sharks and the Bulls and if they fail to score any points from their clash with the Crusaders they will be hoping that neither of the two South African teams win big in their last games.

Realistically the Brumbies will be there come semifinals time, and most probably in fourth place setting up a re-match of this week’s game for their semi the following week.

The other Australian semifinal team, the Waratahs, were on the wrong end of a 37-33 scoreline against the Chiefs – a surprise result in anyone’s books.

The two teams scored nine tries in the entertaining match, the Waratahs scoring five and the Chiefs four. However just as kicker Peter Hewat proved the difference in the Waratahs’ round 12 win over the Highlanders, the fact he had an off night cost them dearly.

Mils Muliaina shone for the Chiefs, scoring two tries as the potentially dangerous backline took advantage of uncharacteristic defensive lapses by the NSW team.

The loss puts the Waratahs three points behind the Crusaders and in danger of missing out on a home semi if they don’t beat the Hurricanes in Sydney this weekend.

The Hurricanes ground out a 26-22 win over the Reds, at Wellington at the weekend, getting a fright in the process.

The Wellington team led 13-8 at half time but the Reds had caused numerous problems as they stole lineouts and put together some slick attacking moves. With 10 minutes to go the home team was only ahead 23-22 before a Jimmy Gopperth penalty on the hooter.

The Blues were the only New Zealand team not to win their round 13 match in a lacklustre 34-33 loss to the lowly ranked Cats. The Aucklanders finished their South African tour with one win from three.

This weekend all eyes will be on the two premier matches of the round – Crusaders v Brumbies and Hurricanes v Waratahs – which will hopefully provide some much-needed excitement to what has, overall, been a rather dull competition.

The Crusaders should win against the Brumbies and while I’d love the Hurricanes to roll the Waratahs, the NSW team will be hurting after their loss and will come back fighting. It’ll be close but in the end it’ll be two re-matches in the semis.

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