Wins for the Lions and the Chiefs in the coming semi-finals will see the Super Rugby decider being staged at Ellis Park for the first time, writes JON CARDINELLI.
As it stands, the Hurricanes are still on track to host the 2016 Super Rugby final. Chris Boyd’s side finished the regular season at the top of the overall standings. They’ve already won one playoff (against the Sharks) by a convincing margin, and must be favourites to win their semi-final against the Chiefs.
After a 30-hour journey, the Chiefs arrived in Cape Town last Monday. They will head back to New Zealand on Sunday, and arrive in Hamilton on Tuesday. They face another big challenge in adjusting to the time zone and gearing up for a battle against the Hurricanes.
The Lions, and perhaps the greater South African rugby community, will be cheering the Chiefs on when they take the field in Wellington next Saturday. Everybody in South Africa will get behind the Lions now that the Sharks and Stormers have been knocked out of the competition. If the Lions beat the Highlanders and the Chiefs shock the Hurricanes, the Super Rugby final will be staged at Ellis Park for the first time in history.
And in that scenario, the Lions will be overwhelming favourites. The Chiefs will be forced to travel back to South Africa for that final, a journey that will mark their third crossing of the Indian Ocean in as many weeks. How this Super Rugby playoff format continues in the professional era is anyone’s guess, but the Lions could benefit from it.
The Hurricanes, of course, are in the best position at present. You would expect them to beat a tired Chiefs side in the semi-final. You would back them as favourites in a final in Wellington. Whether they face the Lions or the Highlanders in the decider, they will face a team that’s just travelled nearly 12,000km across the world.
Just as the Lions will be hoping that things go their way in Wellington this week, the Hurricanes will be hoping for a stroke of fortune in Johannesburg. The Lions may be new to playoff rugby, and will find it difficult in a knockout game staged in New Zealand. The Highlanders, however, could find that final more difficult if they have to travel from Australasia to Johannesburg for their semi-final, and then from Johannesburg to Wellington for the final.
Whichever way you look at it, travel looks set to shape the outcome of the semi-finals and final.
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