Rugby: Wellington fancied for top playoff spot

By Daniel Richardson

Chris Boyd, Head Coach of Wellington. Photo / Getty Images
Chris Boyd, Head Coach of Wellington. Photo / Getty Images

As the ITM Cup enters its final weeks, there are few mysteries remaining in the Premiership in terms of playoff places, though the Championship is still wide open.

In the top division, Wellington, Canterbury and Auckland will be in the top four with Wellington likely to finish first and secure home advantage, while the battle for second place could come down to the Auckland-Canterbury game tomorrow night.

If Auckland were to win it would put them in a strong position to host a semifinal but they still have to face the league-leading Wellington in the capital next week, while Canterbury have a more generous run home with outings against North Harbour and Counties Manukau.

The Lions meet Waikato in Hamilton tonight and Wellington coach Chris Boyd said his side weren't looking at securing a home semifinal yet.

"I know that in Super Rugby, getting home advantage because of the travel is a major issue," Boyd said.

"I haven't looked and seen if, historically, home advantage equals benefit...

"We'd like to be able to play at home in our own stadium.

"But certainly we haven't talked about it and I'm sure every team is exactly the same, they'd all like to play at home."

Counties are shaping as the likely fourth-place finishers in the Premiership, which is a commendable effort for Tana Umaga's men in their first season in the big league.

The only problem for them is finishing fourth means a likely trip to the Cake Tin to meet the Lions and Wellington beat Counties 55-16 in the season-opener last month.

Bay of Plenty are off the pace at the base of the Premiership and a loss to Counties on Sunday would all but confirm their relegation to the Championship.

Waikato are also facing the drop but have a game in hand on the Steamers and an easier draw in the final few weeks.

In the Championship, all seven teams are in with a shout of the playoffs with three rounds to go.

Tasman lead the pack on 18 points and seem destined to be involved in the finals.

Hawkes Bay have too much talent to miss out and Southland have won their past two.

Otago, Manawatu, North Harbour and Northland all appear to be scrapping for the final spot in the playoffs.

It will come down to how they finish what has been a brutal competition with short turnarounds and a high attrition rate.

- APNZ

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