I thought I would have a quick look at the schedule to come to see how likely the current top 4 are to hold on to their spots.
The Waratahs: (since they are so popular!!)
So far they have picked up five great wins (including 3 away) against an out of sorts Chiefs, and the four South African units.
Now given that 4 of these 5 teams are propping up the bottom of the table, and the only thing going for the Stormers is that they are the best SA team, it's a bit early to start celebrating the semi's in Sydney!
The current dream run could have turned into a nightmare by the end of April.
The remaining games for the Tahs are:
The Blues and Hurricanes are probably the two easier games, esp the Hurricanes given it's a home game, but neither of these teams are easy beats, and are capable of turning on a top performance.
Personally I'd rather the Tahs made it than the Brumbies and or Reds, (so if they want to make the semis they can win their matches against those two), but seriously it's way to early to be counting chickens!
The champion Bambis have looked very clinical so far, but like the Tahs they have picked up 4 of their 5 wins against the hapless SA teams. Their other win was the first game of the season, a close fought arm-wrestle against the Reds. Since then the Bulls(!?!) have actually pushed them hardest.
Suffice to say things will get a bit more challenging next week when they fly back from SA and have to head straight on over here to face the rested Crusaders at Jade Stadium.
The Brumbies remaining schedule is:
At this stage the Chiefs game is the only potentially easy away win, but you would back the Brumbies to at least win all their home games from here, and pick up an away win or two to boot.
The Crusaders have just had a BYE so they have only played 4 games so far, two away and two at home. All have been tough but they have deservedly won them all, including El Scorcho in Brisbane last week.
Their remaining schedule is:
Given that the SA teams have been so weak, even at home, you would have to say that the Crusaders (and the Blues) have got a pretty good run through to the end of the season. Beating the SA teams at home is normally a different story but this year I'm not so sure.
Of course if the Cats and Sharks get some of their injured stars back then they will be far different prospects but the fact that they are both basically out of the playoff race means that they are still unlikely to be nearly as dangerous as they have been in the past.
The Crusaders have a few injured stars of their own in reserves, in Ben Blair and Sevens Brawl-meister Marika Vunibaka, both of whom could play key roles in the weeks to come, most likely off the bench, although it wouldn't suprise me if Maddock stepped aside for one of these guys to start.
The Highlanders schedule so far has been very similar to the Brumbies and Waratahs, they have beaten all four South African teams, and narrowly lost their season opener away to the Crusaders.
The remains of their schedule is:
Four away games, two home games, and a BYE. This years Highlanders squad seem to have broken the away win phobia, courtesy of a trip to the Republic, but they are have proved in the past that beating the Blues and Chiefs away is a definite challenge for them (the Chiefs put 50 points on them last season), not to mention beating the Brumbies and Waratahs away as well.
Not an easy road to the semis for the boys from Dunners, but they look far tougher mentally this season so don't write them off yet.
The Reds, Blues, Stormers and Hurricanes definitely aren't out of the race mathematically, but given the Stormers still have their "Australasian tour from hell" ahead of them it would take a minor miracle for them to do it from here.
The other three just need to pick up a win or two against one of the top 4 and the table it will all tighten up again. History would tell us that it will happen.
So what does it all mean?
It means that there is going to be some great footie in the next 6 weeks, that's what it means!
Bring it on!