Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

What will happen on 'Super Saturday'?

Aaron Smith of the Highlanders yells at his team-mates during a Super Rugby match. Photo / Getty Images.
Aaron Smith of the Highlanders yells at his team-mates during a Super Rugby match. Photo / Getty Images.

There's too many permutations to get a proper handle on what may happen on "Super Saturday".

There are five teams who can still claim the No 1 ranking. Then there's the tricky business of factoring in bonus points. It could all do your head in.

To keep it simple, stay aligned with the five respective coaches battling for that top spot.

They will have no other thought than winning their last game. Bonus points will sit on the edge of their thinking - no side will set out with a higher risk game plan aiming to take five rather than four points.

All of them, though, will be conscious they may have to change their risk profile later in the game and be prepared to push for a bonus point.

The Chiefs will have the luxury of knowing exactly what they have to do when they kick off against the Highlanders. If the Crusaders win and don't take a bonus point, or if they lose, then the Chiefs will know that if they beat the Highlanders, they will be the top side from New Zealand and guaranteed a home quarter-final.

They will also have a chance of taking the overall top spot if the Lions lose in Buenos Aires.

If the Crusaders win and take a bonus point, then the Chiefs will need five points in Dunedin to stay ahead and - regardless of the outcome in Christchurch - the clash in Dunedin has the potential to be the best game among an already phenomenal series of home derbies.

Both sides are in form and both love playing on fast, dry, hard tracks. The Chiefs have built their campaign on the quality of their pass and catch across the team, aerobic fitness and universal understanding of what they are trying to achieve.

They are close to averaging five tries and 34 points a game and that is testament not so much to the quantity of their offloading, but the quality of it. The Chiefs don't overdo things - they throw it when it's on and they tend to be clinical in converting when they string phases together.

The question for the Chiefs' coaching staff is how much do they adjust tactically after losing 26-13 to the Highlanders in May. That night in Hamilton the Chiefs were out thought and out played. The Highlanders kicked and chased and the Chiefs made multiple errors trying to run from deep.

Was it the wrong strategy or just poor execution? As much as the Chiefs won't want to make mistakes in their own territory, they won't want to curb the natural instincts of Damian McKenzie who has returned from All Blacks duty with greater patience and accuracy. Also, if they need that bonus point, they will want to keep the tempo high and hope that the Highlanders, who have had a big travel load, wilt coming down the stretch.

The Highlanders, so tactically astute when it comes to finals football, will no doubt have a few surprises. They might want to test the resolve of McKenzie - invite him to run from deep as he did in Hamilton and back their defence to mop him up and hit him behind the gainline.

In Lima Sopoaga they have one of the calmest heads in the game and a player with proven ability to come out with a distinct plan and stick to it - but not blindly shut himself off to other opportunities.

If the Crusaders beat the Hurricanes then the Highlanders will know they can't finish any higher than second in the New Zealand Conference. That, though, carries a reasonable incentive as it will guarantee a quarterfinal against the only Australian side left.

If the Hurricanes have won and taken a bonus point, then the Highlanders will need to do the same to top the Conference. So what to expect in Christchurch?

An epic contest for sure and one that the Crusaders will feel they have to win, not just for where it will leave them in the playoffs, but to build their confidence they can beat New Zealand teams. They have lost three of their five derbies so far - their two wins coming against the Blues. If they can get their set piece up to full noise and take all of their aggression and control to the physical exchanges, they probably have the edge over a Hurricanes team that can't be ignored for a second.

"Super Saturday" is, of course, going to spill into tomorrow with the last piece of the puzzle playing out in Argentina where the Lions will have to hope they have made the right call in keeping their best players at home. They either believe their second team is good enough to win or that they are comfortable coming second overall - knowing that they won in Hamilton earlier this year and played particularly well against the Highlanders, too.

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