With five rounds of Super Rugby to go, it's getting extremely tight in the New Zealand conference, with the Crusaders, Chiefs and Highlanders all on 37 points, one ahead of the Hurricanes.

The advantage lies with the Chiefs, however, because they host the Rebels next, a match on Saturday against a game but limited team which they should win comfortably after their bye.

A night earlier, the Crusaders play the Waratahs in Christchurch. Todd Blackadder's men will be favoured to win that, but it's hard to know what sort of effect their 34-26 defeat to the Highlanders in Dunedin will have on them because that was a match they dominated until the home side didn't just turn the tables in front of a sell-out crowd, but threw them out the window.

It was the Crusaders' second defeat to a New Zealand team after their round one defeat to the Chiefs, so they are likely to feel more comfortable about playing the inconsistent Sydneysiders in the knowledge that, with two tries disallowed by the match officials in Dunedin, not a lot went their way.


The Highlanders will have celebrated that victory fully given they have a bye this weekend, with the Hurricanes, who beat the Reds 29-14 without their grounded Famous Five, also having a rest.

Those five competition points without Julian Savea, Ardie Savea, Victor Vito, Cory Jane and Chris Eves - left out after they missed a curfew in South Africa - were extremely timely. It kept them in touch on 36 points, which, given the vagaries of the conference system, puts them in seventh place.

The four conference winners make the quarter-finals, along with the next best three Australasian teams and one South African side.

And, while the naughty quintet weren't included in the match-day squad on Saturday, that didn't mean they had the day off. Instead, they were run ragged by trainer Davie Gray.

"That was probably worth three games, so they won't be short of a gallop," said coach Chris Boyd.

"It's where the trainer has a licence to kill. Basically they run and then they work and then they run and then they work and they run and they work, and it's relentless."

The Blues, thrashed 43-5 by the Lions in Johannesburg, are all but out of the playoffs frame with 25 points. A maximum of four New Zealand teams can make the playoffs.

One of the most significant fixtures of the season is looming in Suva, Fiji, where the Chiefs play the Crusaders on July 1.

What next for big four?

• Crusaders (37 pts, 1st overall) v Waratahs (30 pts, 4th overall), Christchurch, Friday

• Chiefs (37 pts, 5th overall) v Rebels (23 pts, 12th overall), Hamilton, Saturday

• Highlanders (37 pts, 6th overall) bye

• Hurricanes (36 pts, 7th overall) bye