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5 things to know about Super Rugby round 15

May 21, 2014

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — With five regular season rounds remaining in Super Rugby, very little is certain about the outcome of the playoffs race.

South Africa’s Sharks remain top of the table after last weekend’s courageous win over the Crusaders and could take a giant step toward a home semifinal with a win Friday over the Auckland-based Blues.

The ACT Brumbies face one of the toughest tasks, to beat the Bulls in Pretoria, if they are to see off the challenge of the New South Wales Waratahs to their top placing in the Australian conference. The Waratahs, one point behind the Brumbies, face the Rebels in Melbourne.

The Chiefs will defend first place in the New Zealand conference when they face the Hurricanes in Hamilton and will snuff out the Hurricanes’ playoff hopes if they win. The Highlanders and Crusaders, who meet in Christchurch on Saturday, are both in a position to move ahead of the Chiefs if the defending champions slip up.

Five things to know about round 15:

CRUSADERS CRAVE CREDIBILITY — The Crusaders are determined to show last week’s loss to the 14-man Sharks was an “anomaly” when they play the Highlanders in Dunedin on Saturday. The Sharks played with 14 men for 64 minutes after the sending-off of flanker Jean Deysel, who has been banned for three weeks for stomping, and with 13 men for 10 minutes of the second half but still managed to win 30-25. The Crusaders’ inability to tactically adapt to playing weakened opposition has damaged the credibility of their challenge for this season’s title. Coach Todd Blackadder said the Crusaders had to prove against the Highlanders that the setback against the Sharks is not terminal.

READ STILL NOT RIGHT — The anticipated return to Super Rugby of All Blacks backrower and sometime captain Kieran Read has been further delayed. Read was expected to rejoin the Crusaders for Saturday’s match against the Highlanders after being sidelined for three matches by his second concussion of the season. The Crusaders say Read is no longer showing symptoms of concussion but is now affected by flu and a sinus infection which has prevented him taking part in contact training. Read is now expected to return in the Crusaders’ May 30 match against the Rebels in Melbourne.

RESURGENT REBELS WORRY WARATAHS — The New South Wales Waratahs were the big improvers in last weekend’s 14th round, rising to fourth with a 41-13 win over South Africa’s Lions. But they are quick to admit apprehension about Friday’s clash in Melbourne with the Rebels, who will be buoyed by last week’s 30-27 win over the Queensland Reds. Waratahs halfback Nick Phipps was in the Rebels team which beat the Waratahs 24-22 on this weekend a year ago and knows they are capable of another upset. “They would be targeting this one... they’ll be looking to try to string two together,” Phipps said.

WHITE DEFENDS SHARK ATTACK — Sharks coach Jake White admits his team’s hermetic defense will again be critical when it tries to protect its five-point lead in Friday’s match against the Auckland-based Blues. But White doesn’t accept criticism that the Sharks are solely a defensive side and have made an art of winning ugly. “We are going to have to defend. I don’t think (the Blues) will kick as much as the Crusaders did,” White said. “They’ll definitely try to run it back and they’ve got some dangerous outside backs. But in saying that we need to make sure the rest of our game is good enough as well. ”

HARD ASK FOR THE HURRICANES — The Hurricanes accept they have to win their last four regular season matches, beginning on Saturday against defending champion the Chiefs, to have any chance of reaching the playoffs. Last weekend’s one-point loss to the Highlanders was a real blow and the task has been made harder by losing All Blacks flyhalf Beauden Barrett to a hip injury. Assistant coach Alama Ieremia admitted the Hurricanes can’t afford another loss. “We’ll take things week by week, but it’s almost like the knockout stages of a World Cup now: lose and you’re gone,” Ieramia said.

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