A wild weekend of Super Rugby has ended with the Hurricanes on top - and with the possibility of four Kiwi sides making the semifinals.
After last night stunning the Crusaders in Christchurch to leap from seventh to first in the overall standings, the Hurricanes' lofty position was confirmed when an understrength Lions lost to the Jaguares in Buenos Aires this morning.
It's the second straight season the Hurricanes have topped Super Rugby following the round robin, after last year enjoying home advantage all the way to the final, where they were pipped to the title by the Highlanders.
And a rematch of that showpiece is in play after this morning's result - set up when Lions coach Johan Ackermann opted to leave the majority of his starting side in South Africa - meant all four New Zealand playoff teams will avoid one another in next weekend's quarter-finals.
Having clinched top spot in the conference, the Hurricanes are the only Kiwi side who will initially enjoy home advantage, set to face the Sharks at the Cake Tin on Saturday night. But the quality of the Highlanders, Chiefs and Crusaders will give each team confidence of finding success on the road.
The Highlanders, after last night beating the Chiefs for the sixth straight time, finish second in the New Zealand conference and fifth overall, setting up a clash with the Brumbies in Canberra. The two teams met at the end of April in Invercargill, where the Highlanders ran out 23-10 winners.
The Chiefs will travel to South Africa and face the Stormers, who have yet to encounter any Kiwi opposition this season, while the Crusaders will be heading the same direction, visiting Ellis Park to encounter the second-placed Lions, whom they beat 43-37 in the Republic in April.
If all three New Zealand teams do the business on the road, the semifinals will be in Wellington, where the Hurricanes would host the Crusaders, and Dunedin, where the Highlanders would welcome the Chiefs.
Friday night: Brumbies v Highlanders (Canberra)
Saturday night: Hurricanes v Sharks (Wellington)
Sunday morning: Lions v Crusaders (South Africa)
Sunday morning: Stormers v Chiefs (South Africa)
How the playoffs work
- The eight sides are ranked 1-8 and carry that ranking through the playoffs
- The four conference winners, who are ranked 1-4 based on competition points, earn a home quarter-final.
- The other four spots are taken by the three best-placed teams from Australasia and the best-placed runner-up from the two South African conferences. They are ranked 5-8 based on competition points.
- The semifinals are worked out based on the highest ranked team left playing the lowest ranked team and the second-highest ranked team playing the second-lowest ranked team.
- The highest ranked team earns home advantage for the remainder of the playoffs.