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Super Rugby run home, final round scenarios and predictions

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Gibson singles out Holloway for praise (0:37)

Daryl Gibson is pleased with how some of his fringe players are improving at this point of the season. (0:37)

After 18 rounds of competition, Super Rugby has just one weekend left to run of its regular season.

The New Zealand and Australian conference titles have been won by the Crusaders and Waratahs respectively, thus earning home quarterfinals, but their opposition for the opening week of the finals remains unknown.

Meanwhile, there is a real scrape for the final two positions in the top eight currently held by the Jaguares and Rebels.

CRUSADERS: 58 points (first NZ Conference, first overall)

Round 19: Blues (H)

Best finish: first

Worst finish: first

Injury news: Joe Moody's injury-interrupted season has continued, the prop sustaining a knee injury against the Highlanders last week. Ryan Crotty also left the field as a precaution and may rest up this week, while Codie Taylor and Scott Barrett have their final NZ Rugby-enforced rest weeks to fulfil.

Predicted finals opener: Sharks (H)

WARATAHS: 44 points (first in Aus, second overall)

Round 19: Brumbies (H)

They looked shaky against the Sunwolves for much of the first half, but the moment Semesi Maserewa was sent off the Waratahs were always going to cruise to a bonus-point victory. That 77-25 triumph saw them lock up the Australia conference, while a single bonus point may be enough to secure the No.2 seeding should the Lions fail to record a bonus-point win over the Bulls.

Best finish: second

Worst finish: third

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Waratahs focusing on defence ahead of finals

Daryl Gibson says the Waratahs must tighten up their defence if they want to challenge for the Super Rugby title.

The Waratahs will host a home quarterfinal next Saturday night in Sydney, their opposition to come from either the Sharks, Rebels, Jaguares and possibly even the Lions or Highlanders. A date with the Jaguares appears the most likely outcome, though the Argentines have it in them to beat the Sharks. Interestingly, the Waratahs are 0-2 against the Jaguares and were comfortably beaten 38-28 earlier this year.

Injury news: The Waratahs continue to dodge any real injury trouble as skipper Michael Hooper continues his recovery from the sidelines. Hooper is an outside chance of returning in week one of the finals.

Predicted finals opener: Jaguares (H)

LIONS: 41 points (first in RSA, third overall)

Round 19: Bulls (H)

The Lions blew a lead against the Sharks and were in danger of not finishing top of their conference. But as things stand, after the Jaguares went down to the Bulls last weekend, they have their destiny in their own hands. A win in their final match of the regular season against the Bulls will see them top the conference, while they can still finish in second position overall if the Waratahs don't get any points against the Brumbies.

Best finish: second

Worst finish: seventh

Injury News: The Lions have a clean bill of health going into the clash against the Bulls, while they have used their week off to recharge their batteries heading into the playoffs.

Predicted finals opener: Highlanders (H)

HURRICANES: 50 points (Second in NZ, fourth overall)

Run home: Chiefs (A)

After three straight defeats, the Hurricanes finally burst into action with a commanding 42-24 victory over the Blues to all but secure the No.4 seeding and a home quarterfinal. Four tries from Ngani Laumape, orchestrated by the returning Beauden Barrett in conjunction with TJ Perenara, set the Canes on their way. Given their performance last Saturday, Chris Boyd's side appear the most likely to test the Crusaders.

Best finish: fourth

Worst finish: fifth

Injury news: Ardie Savea remains the Hurricanes' biggest injury worry, the flanker still sidelined by an ankle injury picked up against France. Coach Chris Boyd otherwise has a full-strength squad at his disposal.

The Hurricanes can slip to fifth this weekend, but it will take an almighty effort from a Chiefs side missing Damian McKenzie to an All Blacks rest. In all likelihood, the two sides do battle again next weekend at Westpac Stadium.

Predicted finals opener: Chiefs (H)

CHIEFS: 45 (third in NZ, fifth overall)

Run home: Hurricanes (H)

They may have survived a few nervy moments towards the finish, but the Chiefs ultimately proved too strong for the Brumbies last weekend in Hamilton. A failure to pick up a bonus point meant this weekend's clash against the Hurricanes is, as mentioned above, largely academical. It may be that resting McKenzie this week doesn't "give up the ghost," so to speak; the little dynamo can attack the Hurricanes afresh next week.

Best finish: fourth

Worst finish: sixth

Injury news: Brodie Retallick is back in the Chiefs line-up this week after an extended stint on the sidelines with a pectoral injury. The news isn't so good for Sam Cane, though his bout of concussion is only expected to keep him out this week. Sean Wainui is out with a shoulder injury.

The Chiefs could mathematically drop to sixth, but that would require the Highlanders to overcome a 105-point for-and-against differential. The southerners could run up a 50-point score like that against the Rebels, but it's hard to see the Chiefs copping a similar hiding at home to the Hurricanes, even without McKenzie and Cane.

Predicted finals opener: Hurricanes (A)

HIGHLANDERS: 40 points (fourth in NZ, sixth overall)

Round 19: Rebels (H)

The Highlanders were a much better team than the 45-22 loss to the Crusaders suggests, particularly during a thrilling first half in which they went toe-to-toe with the eight-time champions. They welcome a Rebels side, who have dropped their last two from winnable positions, to Dunedin on Friday. The Highlanders are red-hot favourites for that one despite the fact they are without Aaron Smith, Ben Smith and Luke Whitelock who are all on NZ Rugby-enforced rests.

Best finish: fifth

Worst finish: seventh

Injury news: Already short on troops because of their All Blacks omissions, the Highlanders are also without the injured Richard Buckman and Siate Tokolahi.

Aaron Mauger's side are assured of quarterfinal footy, but they could foreseeably drop to seventh if they were beaten by the Rebels and the Jaguares beat the Sharks. That could see them land in either Buenos Aires, Johannesburg or Sydney, though a game against the South African conference winners looms as the most likely result.

Predicted finals opener: Lions (A)

JAGUARES: 38 points (second in RSA, seventh overall)

Run home: Sharks (A)

The Jaguares pressed the self-destruct button midway through their match against the Bulls last weekend and it looks unlikely that they will win the South African conference. The defeat in Pretoria ended a marvellous seven-game winning streak, which got them into a position to challenge the Lions for the top position. They still have a chance to top the conference if they beat the Sharks this weekend and the Lions go down to the Bulls.

Best finish: third

Worst finish: eighth

Injury news: Julian Montoya and Marcos Kremer have boosted the team in recent weeks, adding some depth ahead of what could be trip Down Under for the playoffs.

The Jaguares would love to host a playoff match in Argentina, but they will fancy themselves against the Waratahs in Australia after having their best tour since their introduction to Super Rugby.

Predicted finals opener: Waratahs (A)

REBELS: 35 points (second in Aus, eighth overall)

Round 19: Highlanders (A)

How quickly things have changed for the Rebels. An Australian conference title within their sights merely a fortnight ago, they now find themselves in a real battle to scrape into the finals. Back-to-back defeats to the Waratahs and Reds, both of which they led with 20 minutes to play, leaves the Rebels hanging on by a thread ahead of Round 19.

Best finish: seventh

Worst finish: 10th

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Rebels don't want to rely on other results

Reece Hodge praises the intensity of the team's training as they chase a spot in the Super Rugby finals.

The Rebels will be at long odds to defeat the Highlanders in Dunedin on Friday, but it might be that a losing bonus point is good enough for them to retain their place in top eight. If they fail to secure a point for losing by seven or less, the Rebels will be forced to sweat on the results of the Brumbies and Sharks. If both teams lose the Rebels will hang onto eighth, but if the Sharks win it will be curtains for Dave Wessels' side, so too should the Brumbies run up a decent score in a bonus-point win over the Waratahs.

Injury news: The Rebels were hopeful of regaining Will Genia this week, but the news couldn't be worse with Wallabies fullback Dane Haylett-Petty joining the No.9 and skipper Adam Coleman on the sidelines. Haylett-Petty picked up a knee injury in last Friday's loss to the Reds.

Predicted finals opener: Mad Monday

SHARKS: 32 points (third in RSA, ninth overall)

Run home: Jaguares (H)

The Sharks will be holding thumbs that the Highlanders can return to form and beat the Rebels to give them a chance of sneaking into the playoffs. The Sharks failed to take advantage last week of the Reds' shock win over the Rebels when they went down to the Stormers at Newlands. The Sharks would not be in this position had they shown some sort of consistency, as they have regularly mixed the sublime with the daft in 2018.

Best finish: eighth

Worst finish: eleventh

Injury update: The Sharks are likely to be without loose forward Jean-Luc du Preez again, after his medial cruciate ligament injury, but they are hopeful that his twin brother, Daniel, a fellow back-rower, will be available after he left the field in the loss to the Stormers last weekend with a pinched nerve in his neck. Springboks winger Sbu Nkosi is also in a race against time to be fit after he sprained an ankle in Cape Town.

Predicted finals opener: Crusaders (A)

BRUMBIES: 30 points (third in Aus, 10th overall)

Run home: Waratahs (A)

The Brumbies finished with a wet sail in Hamilton last Saturday, playing arguably their best half of rugby all season. But they ultimately fell short of an upset win over the Chiefs, leaving their finals hopes on the very last days of life support. Brumbies fans weren't at all happy after a late deliberate knock-down went unnoticed by the officials, denying the ACT franchise one last shot at victory.

Best finish: eighth

Worst finish: eleventh

The Stormers' victory over the Sharks kept the Brumbies in mathematical contention, but their path to eighth spot will take some achieving. First off, they will need to beat the Waratahs with a bonus-point; if the Rebels have earlier slumped to a heavy defeat to the Highlanders, Brumbies fans will be glued to the outcome of the Sharks-Jaguares match for which they require an Argentine win. The Brumbies can take confidence from their recent meetings in Sydney, but a bonus-point win looks beyond them.

Injury news: Wallabies prop Scott Sio returns returns from injury while co-captain Skipper Sam Carter will make his return from the bench.

Predicted finals opener: Mad Monday