Ross Cronjé of the Lions is a key player to put on the gloss in their quest to capture top spot in the Super Rugby standings. Photo: Samuel Shivambu/BackpagePix
JOHANNESBURG - We’re set for a thrilling race for the all-important top spot in the Super Rugby standings. The Crusaders (11 from 11 for 50 points) and the Lions (10 from 11 for 46 points), with four games each left to play, are the best-placed and favourites to secure that position.

Here rugby writer Jacques van der Westhuyzen tries to figure out who’ll come out on top and give themselves the best chance of winning the competition.

Remaining fixtures:

Crusaders

Chiefs: Friday (away)

It’s a second straight big New Zealand derby for the former multiple champions after they got the better of the defending champions, the Hurricanes, in Christchurch last week. This time, though, they’re away to the unpredictable Chiefs, who will ask many questions of the front runners. 

The men from Waikato are second in the New Zealand conference, with 42 points, from nine wins in 10 matches - a game less than the Crusaders - so a win for them this weekend would give them belief they can overtake their fellow countrymen in these latter stages and win their conference.

Prediction: Crusaders to lose, but pick up a bonus point

Rebels: May 27 (away)

The Australian outfit have caused a few problems for visitors to Melbourne this year, but they won’t have enough firepower or experience to keep the Crusaders in check. 

Scott Robertson’s men will run away with the contest in the second half after the replacements have been sent on to finish off the Rebels so it’ll be back to normal after the wobble against the Chiefs.

Prediction: Crusaders to pick up five points

Highlanders: June 3 (home)

Ooh a third New Zealand side in four weeks, and another big ask for the men chasing top spot. The Highlanders haven’t been all that flash this season, but so far they have lost only three times in 11 matches, so they’re still tough to get the better of. 

They’ll be eager to topple their countrymen before the competition breaks for the June Tests, and the British and Irish Lions’ visit to New Zealand. Should be a cracker of a game.

Prediction: Crusaders to win without a bonus point

Hurricanes: July 15 (away)

After the Test series against the Lions, the Crusaders return to action for one final game before the round-robin phase wraps up, and what a game that promises to be. The Crusaders got the better of the ’Canes last weekend, but this match will be played in Wellington and both sides may at that stage be chasing top spot in New Zealand. 

Also, both teams may be somewhat fatigued as several players will have done duty against the Lions, while there could be several injuries, too. Will be fun to watch.

Prediction: Crusaders to lose and pick up nothing.

Lions

Bulls: Saturday (home)

The Lions have not lost at home in over a year, they’re riding high after a 14-point haul in Australia and they’re looking to make up for a lost opportunity last year. 

The Bulls are struggling for form and come to Joburg having won just three times in 10 outings. The teams are in vastly different spaces right now and it would come as a surprise if the men from Pretoria seriously challenged the Lions.

Prediction: Lions to win without a bonus point

Kings: May 28 (home)

The men from Port Elizabeth are the talk of the town; they have won three in a row including downing the Sharks last weekend. They should also push the Brumbies close on Saturday, so will come to Joburg for a Sunday game full of confidence. 

They’re making a big statement about their worth to play Super Rugby and some of their players are even in the Bok selection mix. They’ll push the Lions hard and make life difficult, but the Lions will still triumph.

Prediction: Lions to win with a bonus point

Sunwolves: July 1 (home)

In their first game back after the international break, the Lions may be a little rusty and out-of-sorts, with some players no doubt a little tired, too, after their involvement with the Boks against France. 

But the Sunwolves will be the perfect game for them to get back into the swing of things the Lions will be tested, but the visitors will have been given a big hiding.

Prediction: Lions to win with a bonus point

Sharks: July 15 (away)

Both teams will go into their final pool match on the back of their second bye, so they’ll be fresh and raring to go. At that stage the Lions may already be South African group winners, but the Sharks may still be chasing a play-off spot so there will be plenty on the line. 

More so if top spot overall is at stake for the Lions. It’ll be hard and brutal in Durban, especially after the Sharks felt they were unfairly treated in their match at Ellis Park. Much will depend on who is most affected by what should be fairly lengthy injury lists.

Prediction: Lions to win without a bonus point

In conclusion The Crusaders currently have 50 log points, so a further 10 points would put them on a total of 60. The Lions have 46, so a further 18 points would put them on a total of 64 enough to secure top spot.

@jacq_west

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