Only eight teams remain as Super Rugby moves into the post-season and there’s a healthy mix of experienced and fresh faces among those teams that have made it through the regular season on top.
New Zealand are the most represented of the major nations with four of their five teams making the cut while South Africa are also well represented with three of their own. Only one Australian team makes it through to the post-season, but it just so happens that they are the second most experienced finals side in Super Rugby history.
The Brumbies snuck into the finals after a tight tussle with the NSW Waratahs at the top of the Australian conference for much of the season. While their final points tally was significantly below their New Zealand counterparts, their performances proved that they are ready to match them. They go into the finals with a favourable win rate of 61% at the finals stage and need only 32 points to become the second team in Super Rugby history to notch 500 points in the finals.
The Chiefs, Highlanders, and Hurricanes each come into this finals series with nine previous finals games under their belts. Of the three only the Chiefs have a positive winning record with five wins from their nine outings, though the Highlanders have proven to be the most offensively adept. Of the eight teams competing this weekend, only the Stormers have a worse winning record than the Hurricanes who’ve only ever beaten Australian teams in the post-season.
It seems all teams live in the shadow of the Crusaders in the finals however. Not only have the Crusaders played in 30 finals games but they’ve won more finals fixtures than any other team has even played in. While no other team has scored 500+ points in finals matches, the Crusaders are already well on their way towards the 1000 point mark in the finals. Despite their imposing record though, they’ve not managed to snare consecutive wins since the 2011 series and haven’t tasted success in a grand final since 2008.
The Sharks pose the biggest threat to the title of the South African teams, based on their record in the finals. The Stormers have only ever won one finals game in Super Rugby history while the Lions are making their debut post-season appearance – although the Cats made two appearances at this stage in 2000 and 2001 (L2). The Sharks, though, endure the worst points differential of any team remaining in competition, though they’ll be looking for a fourth win in their last six finals games after good showings in the 2012 and 2014 campaigns.
As we have often seen in Super Rugby, the form book can go out the window and in 2016 the tournament looks as wide open as ever.