2024 Super Rugby three-week Playoffs Preview: Another year of New Zealand dominance other than the Crusaders or is it Australia’s turn at last in a long, long time?

by Sports Benches

After 15 weeks of regular season action, let the three-week Playoffs begin as we are edging closer to close out the 2024 Super Rugby Season before the International season begins next month off the back of a three-game series (Wallabies v Wales and All Blacks v England) as well as bit of Club Rugby in between (NSW Shute Shield and QLD Hospital Cup as well as New Zealand’s National Provincial Championship) followed by The Rugby Championship & Bledisloe Cup throughout August and September. Here’s what you need to know which of the Top 8 have made it and which four have been left out of the cold.

The four teams that were eliminated outside the Top 8 bubble are the NSW Waratahs following so many injuries (mainly the front row department) combined with very poor form other than winning both games v the Crusaders as if 2014 comes around again (12th), Moana Pasifika even though they made some progress by winning a few games but they’re still not yet competitive as they would’ve liked during their third season (11th), Western Force when they had a poor start off the back of a huge off-season drive but some rare wins here and there only at home as the campaign goes on wasn’t enough to justify their slim Finals hopes (10th) & lastly, the Crusaders with so many key men moved on including the seasoned winning head coach combined with a few injuries whose recent winning form & some unlucky losses just wasn’t enough to make it on time (9th).

We will begin with the 4th & 5th placed team tonight at around 5pm AEST between the Chiefs and Queensland Reds once again at FMG Stadium in Waikato. Can we see the Reds go one better or will the Chiefs continue its strong NZ teams run going into the second week semis next weekend? Then we have all three games throughout Saturday from early afternoon to night to round off the first week’s play. We will pick it up from there between the 1st and 8th placed match of the Hurricanes and the Melbourne Rebels. Rebels had a great on-field season thanks to a brilliant front row while their backline has been sublime but their constant off-field troubles financially saw the writing off the wall to the Melbourne-based team after 14 years. Yes, making the finals for the first time is a great way to end things on a high but then it’s like an extra round of rugby as the favourites remain to the Canes with a new Super Rugby champion being crowned soon now that the Crusaders is out.

Saturday night in New Zealand sees the Fijian Drua play in their 2nd straight Playoffs year after finishing 7th again in their third season of existence. They will be up against another difficult team likewise in the Blues who will be hosting them at Eden Park in Auckland. Can the Drua finally live up to its full potential when they haven’t been great away from home or will the Blues continue its championship hunt going into the semis yet again & win a trophy that the fans have long been waiting for (2021 Trans-Tasman trophy doesn’t count) since the start of the 2020s? And finally we finish off the big Saturday at GIO Stadium in Canberra between the ACT Brumbies and the returning Highlanders who is now back in the Top 8 after they fell short in 9th last year. Well, the Highlanders had their moments this season as whether or not if they can continue their resurgence by causing a storm to the best Australian Super Rugby team? If not, will see the Brumbies make the semis once more and hopefully they go one better to hopefully be the next Australian Super Rugby winner after the Tahs 10 years ago.

And with Super Rugby moving on with a 11-team competition next year (for now) with two weeks of byes and an extra regular season round, this is widely expected to be the last year we will see an eight-team Finals format since its big and then reduced expansion back in 2016. The quarter-finals may stay on but it will be slightly different by going with a six-team Finals route as it once was before between 2011-2015 where the Top 2 teams will get the first week off with two matches instead of four – 4th v 5th (winner meets 1st) and 3rd v 6th (winner meets 2nd). It’s still a long way away from its absolute best even with South Africa now already moved on and thriving across Europe as we will go with four Australian teams from five while it remains to see if Moana Pasifika and even the Western Force can lift themselves up from the bottom at least over the next year or two.

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