JON CARDINELLI selects an overall 18-team Super Rugby log, based on performances and opposition faced after 13 rounds.
The confusing Super Rugby conference system makes it difficult to see just where teams stand in the competition, but SARugbymag.co.za's chief writer believes this is where they would rank in a 1-18 format.
1. Crusaders (12-0)
Last week’s ranking: 1
The Crusaders beat the Chiefs this past Saturday to claim yet another New Zealand scalp. They will play their last three conference stage fixtures in Melbourne (against the Rebels), in Christchurch (against the Highlanders), and in Wellington (against the Hurricanes). They will be favourites to finish the regular season unbeaten and earn the right to host a potential final.
2. Lions (11-1)
Last week’s ranking: 2
The Lions thrashed the Bulls 51-14 to extend their lead at the top of the South African group. Johan Ackermann's charges still trail the Crusaders by three log points in the overall standings, though. Bonus-point wins against the Kings, Sunwolves and Sharks may not be enough to boost them into first place. The Lions will need the Crusaders to lose one of their remaining three matches.
3. Hurricanes (9-2)
Last week's ranking: 4
The Hurricanes thrashed the Cheetahs in Wellington to move up to second place in the New Zealand conference. They were helped by the Chiefs' loss to the Crusaders in Suva, though, and occupy second place in the Kiwi conference thanks to their superior points difference.
4. Chiefs (9-2)
Last week's ranking: 3
The Chiefs recorded their second loss of the season when they went down to the Crusaders on Saturday. They should bounce back when they face the Blues in round 14.
5. Highlanders (9-3)
Last week’s ranking: 5
The Highlanders maintain their place in the rankings thanks to a resounding 55-6 win over the Force. They have played one more game than the Hurricanes and Chiefs. While they remain on course for the playoffs, they may battle to finish higher than third in the New Zealand conference.
6. Sharks (8-1-3)
Last week’s ranking: 6
Following an abject performance against the Kings, the Sharks bounced back to claim a bonus-point win against the Sunwolves in Singapore. A win against the Stormers (the Africa 1 conference leaders) in Durban this week would serve as a powerful statement.
7. Blues (6-6)
Last week’s ranking: 7
The Blues recorded their first loss to a foreign side in 2017 when they went down 30-22 to the Stormers at Newlands. They desperately need a win against the Chiefs this week to keep their slim playoff hopes alive.
8. Stormers (7-4)
Last week's ranking: 8
The Stormers beat the Blues to snap a four-game losing streak. The Cape side remains the only team outside of New Zealand that has beaten a Kiwi franchise in 2017 (they've downed the Chiefs and the Blues). They remain on course to top Africa 1 and host a playoff.
9. Jaguares (5-6)
Last week’s ranking: 9
The Jaguares have maintained their position in the rankings despite having a bye in round 13. That could change when they host a desperate Brumbies side in Buenos Aires this coming weekend.
10. Brumbies (4-7)
Last week's ranking: 11
The Brumbies have moved up a place in the rankings following their 19-10 win over the Kings in Port Elizabeth. More importantly, they have maintained the four-point gap between themselves and the Waratahs at the top of the Australian conference.
11: Kings (4-7)
Last week's ranking: 10
The Kings drop a place in the rankings following their disappointing display against the Brumbies. It won't get any easier for the men from the Eastern Cape when they play the Lions in Johannesburg this coming Sunday.
12. Waratahs (4-7)
Last week's ranking: 14
The Waratahs climb two places after thumping the Rebels 50-23 in Sydney on Sunday. They may find the Highlanders harder to breach in Dunedin this week, though.
13. Reds (3-8)
Last week's ranking: 12
The Reds drop a place after having a bye in round 12. A win against the Force in Brisbane this week would boost their playoff qualification chances.
14. Bulls (3-8)
Last week's ranking: 13
The Bulls conceded 51 points in their recent loss to the Lions. They will host the Hurricanes at Loftus Versfeld in round 14. It wouldn't surprise to see the Bulls dropping further down these rankings in the wake of that fixture.
15. Force (3-8)
Last week's ranking: 15
The Force failed to score a single try and conceded 55 points in their defeat to the Highlanders. Yet they are only 10 log points behind the Australian conference leaders, the Brumbies. A win against the Reds this week could revive their hopes of advancing in this tournament.
16. Cheetahs (2-10)
Last week's ranking: 16
The Cheetahs leaked nine tries in their 61-7 loss to the Hurricanes. They should be desperate to record a win against the Sunwolves in Tokyo this coming Saturday. A bonus-point victory could boost the Cheetahs above the Bulls in the South African standings.
17. Rebels (1-1-9)
Last week's ranking: 17
The Rebels copped a hiding at the hands of the Waratahs last week. A similar result should be expected when they host the rampant Crusaders in round 14.
18. Sunwolves (1-10)
Last week’s ranking: 18
The Sunwolves remain at the bottom on the rankings after a defeat to the Sharks. They may fancy their chances against a struggling Cheetahs side in Tokyo this Saturday, though. A big win against the Cheetahs, who are coming off a taxing tour to New Zealand, would allow the Sunwolves to surpass the Rebels and draw level with the Bloemfontein-based side in the standings.
Photo: Anne Laing/HM Images