Rebels exit and playoff seedings are the focus in the last regular season round in Super Rugby

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — The Rebels exit and playoff seedings will be the focus of the last round of the Super Rugby Pacific regular season.

Final standings will be confirmed on a weekend with a particular focus on contests for first and eighth spots.

The Auckland-based Blues and Wellington-based Hurricanes share top spot with 51 points.

First place will be decided after matches Saturday between the Hurricanes and the sixth-place Highlanders and the Blues against the fourth-place Chiefs.

Those match-ups favor the Hurricanes, who also beat the Blues during the regular season.

The Fijian Drua are in eighth place ahead of their home game against the Melbourne-based Rebels, who won’t be returning in 2025 despite clinching a playoff spot.

Western Force, the Christchurch-based Crusaders and Moana Pasifika are all within three points of the last playoff spot.

The Drua hasn’t lost all season in Lautoka, where another win will seal a quarterfinal place. The Rebels players traveled to Fiji within hours of confirmation their franchise wouldn’t be given a Super Rugby license for 2025.

The Force host the Canberra-based Brumbies, who are likely to finish in the third place. The Crusaders and Moana Pasifika meet in Christchurch.

The Blues come into the last round off a damaging 29-27 loss to the Crusaders. They had lost only once in 12 matches this year and the Crusaders had won only twice when they met in Christchurch last weekend.

Prop Angus Ta’avao, who was part of a beaten forward pack, said the Blues had gone through a bruising review of the performance.

“Obviously, our set piece, our scrum didn’t go too well and the collisions probably weren’t as consistent as we’d like,” Ta’avao said. “The frustrating thing is we didn’t expect anything less from them down there.

“We didn’t shy away from it. The boys who were put on blast — it was deserved. The beauty of it is we get a chance to back up at home this week against a Chiefs side that is going to bring similar challenges.”

The Blues tried to lure All Blacks playmaker Beauden Barrettback from Japan in time for the playoffs but he has been ruled ineligible because he hasn’t played during the regular season.

The Hurricanes had another setback at hooker, losing Raymond Tuputupu to a three-match suspension after he received a red card last week against the Chiefs. Former All Black Asafo Aumua returns to the starting role after recovering from injury.

The Hurricanes have won nine of their last 10 matches against the Highlanders, who have named a number of youngsters in their starting 15 as they look toward the playoffs.

The Drua will make their attempt to clinch a playoffs place for the second year in a row at Churchill Park in Lautoka, a daunting place for visiting teams.

Fans fill the seating and cling to trees and other vantage points outside the ground, creating an atmosphere which is at once joyful and daunting to visitors.

Influential scrumhalf Frank Lomani will return to the Drua lineup at the end of a six-match suspension for elbowing a Rebels player in the last meeting between the teams in round seven.

Every match from now on could be the last in charge for head coach Mick Byrne, who will step down at the end of the season to coach the Fiji national team. Bryne’s assistant Glen Jackson will take over at the Drua next season.

The Crusaders re-ignited their playoff hopes when they upset the Blues last weekend. They have to beat Moana Pasifika on Friday to stay in the race, then must wait and hope other results go their way.

“We’ve got an opportunity to put a little stamp on the weekend prior to sitting back and seeing what unfolds,” head coach Rob Penney said.


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