By Robert Smith ,AFP
SYDNEY — The Coastal Sharks will host the Otago Highlanders and the ACT Brumbies will have home advantage against defending champions Waikato Chiefs in next weekend’s opening round of the Super Rugby playoffs. The New South Wales Waratahs, chasing their first southern hemisphere provincial title, finished top of the final standings with seven points to spare over the Canterbury Crusaders. The Waratahs and the seven-time champion Crusaders will have next week off and host the playoff winners in the semifinals on the following weekend.
The Crusaders edged out the Sharks for the crucial second spot with a bonus-point 34-8 victory over the Highlanders. The win relegated their south island rivals to sixth spot and an unenviable trip to South Africa next weekend to face the Sharks in Durban. Long-time leaders the Sharks had to settle for third place despite a clinical 34-10 away win over Western Stormers on Saturday. Twice winners the Brumbies earned home advantage with a 47-25 romp over Western Force to claim fourth spot and they will take on the fifth-placed Chiefs in Canberra next Saturday. Back-to-back Waikato scraped into the finals at the expense of the Wellington Hurricanes with a desperate 11-8 victory over the Blues in Auckland on Friday. The Hurricanes could only look on and hope for results to go their way as they had a final round bye. The Waratahs, who rested Wallaby star Israel Folau, were far too strong for the Queensland Reds winning 34-3 in Brisbane for their seventh straight win and finish top on the final standings. The Crusaders left the Sharks with too much to do to overhaul them for second spot with a comfortable win over the Highlanders in Christchurch. Canterbury led 17-3 at half-time, scoring their first try just ahead of the break, before adding three more for their bonus point in the second half.
Coastal Sharks took to the field in Cape Town later Saturday needing a 35-point bonus-point victory to snatch second place from the Crusaders. But the improbable target soon became impossible and two tries in the final four minutes gave Sharks a flattering scoreline.