The remaining rounds of Super Rugby's regular season are likely to draw attention to an under-performing Australian conference in which the ACT Brumbies and New South Wales Waratahs are locked in a tight race for one playoff spot.
The Brumbies and Waratahs hold the first two places in the Aussie conference with matching four-win, seven-loss records, although the Brumbies hold a four-point lead after taking six bonus points from their 11 matches.
Under Super Rugby's playoff format, the team that tops the Australian conference will be awarded home advantage in the first round of playoffs, even though their record is vastly inferior to teams below them.
The Australian contenders face tough matches in the 14th round this weekend: the Brumbies will play Argentina's Jaguares in Buenos Aires and the Waratahs travel to Dunedin to play a Highlanders team on a record eight-match win streak.
Overall, the Brumbies might have the easier finish to the regular season with matches against the Jaguares, Melbourne Rebels, Queensland Reds and Chiefs. The Waratahs play the Highlanders, Chiefs, Jaguares and Force and will need to win most of those games to qualify.
"I've read a little bit this week that [the Brumbies] have the perceivably easier run home, but that means nothing to us," Waratahs centre David Horwitz said. "I believe if we get four wins on the way home, we will be in the finals so that's all in our control."
The Waratahs' path to the playoffs seems likely to be blocked by their two matches against New Zealand sides as no Australian team has beaten a New Zealand opponent in 18 matches in 2017. Wallabies fullback Israel Folau says the Waratahs believe they can change that record.
"You've got to be confident in going over there," Folau said. "That's all we're thinking about. It's not rocket science. The challenge is, because we play New Zealand teams, to not go into our shells."
The Brumbies received a major boost in their bid to reach the playoffs when they beat the Southern Kings 19-10 in Bloemfontein last weekend. Rookie winger Andrew Muirhead said the win had given the Brumbies' campaign new impetus.
"Most of our losses have been pretty close losses so it's good to be able to get one of those close games away," Muirhead said.
"Obviously getting another win this week will put us in the right direction."
The buoyant attitude of the Brumbies and Waratahs players appears at odds with the ongoing turmoil in Australian rugby and the fact that on a combined championship table, the Brumbies' 23 points would only be good enough for 10th place and the Waratahs' 19 points would place them 12th.
There is also growing anger at the inability of the Australian Rugby Union to decide which of its five teams will be cut.
The coaches of the endangered teams, the Rebels and Force, say some players are suffering mental health issues as a result of anxiety.
The head of the New Zealand Rugby Players' Association, Rob Nichol, said this week Australian Rugby's inaction was damaging Super Rugby.
"If you are going to give an undertaking to reduce teams, surely you have worked out how and who and everyone is on board prior to making that agreement," Nichol said. "The legacy of Super Rugby, the teams, the players, the fans don't deserve this."
The Blues and Chiefs open the round tonight at Eden Park, followed by Queensland vs the Force in Brisbane. The Sunwolves play the Cheetahs in Tokyo tomorrow afternoon, followed by the Dunedin match and Rebels vs Crusaders in Melbourne.
In South Africa, the Bulls play the Hurricanes in Pretoria, the Sharks and Stormers play at Durban and the Lions take on the Southern Kings in Johannesburg.