The Lions' charmed draw which has them avoiding a New Zealand team until the quarter-finals stage at the earliest, combined with a relatively easy run-in, will make them favourites to make the Super Rugby grand final at least.

But while the Lions, last year's beaten finalists, are a good team - they have lost only to the Jaguares and that was in Buenos Aires - and are the one South African side to effectively combine a running game with their traditionally strong set piece, any New Zealand outfit forced to play them at their Ellis Park lair will be entitled to feel confident about winning.

The major issue, of course, is the travel factor. As things stand, the Highlanders are in the running to play their quarter-final against the Lions in Johannesburg, and should they win that, they could play their semifinal against the Stormers in Cape Town or against the Hurricanes in Wellington.

The positive for Tony Brown's men is that, again, as it stands, if it is the Hurricanes, the semifinal travel factor might be lessened slightly by the fact that the Hurricanes will be travelling back to Wellington too, after having beaten the Stormers.


The Crusaders are in line to host the Sharks, putting Scott Robertson's on a potential semifinal collision course with the Chiefs, who are in line to play the Brumbies in Canberra.

The Brumbies, should they make the finals as Australian conference winners, are likely to have the worst points tally of all in the top eight and Dave Rennie's men will be heavy favourites to win and head to Christchurch for a blockbuster of a semifinal.

It's not out of the question that all four New Zealand finalists will make the semifinals. Only one overseas team has beaten a Kiwi outfit - the Stormers beating the Chiefs in Cape Town - and the Kiwi derbies in particular have been several steps up in terms of intensity.

Should the Blues, currently out of the mix but still in the hunt for the Highlanders' wildcard spot, make the quarter-finals - and potentially against the Lions - they will have to travel there from Tokyo.

The Blues' final round-robin match is against the Sunwolves.

Ellis Park, the Lions' home ground, has traditionally been a tough place to play for New Zealand teams. The All Blacks have played 14 tests at the stadium between 1928 and 2015, winning five and losing nine. The All Blacks' last loss there was in 2014, a 27-25 thriller when Pat Lambie kicked a penalty to win it in the final minutes.

The All Blacks won there in their last meeting in 2015, a 27-20 victory helped by Richie McCaw's controversial lineout try, converted by Lima Sopoaga in his first test, which allowed the All Blacks to overtake the Boks from a 17-20 deficit.

Last year, the Lions lost to the Crusaders and Hurricanes at home, before beating the Crusaders in their quarter-final and Highlanders in their semifinal on home turf.
Quarter-finalists as it stands (with seedings):
Crusaders (1) v Sharks (8) in Christchurch
Lions (2) v Highlanders (7) in Johannesburg
Stormers (3) v Hurricanes (6) in Cape Town
Brumbies (4) v Chiefs (5) in Canberra

Lions' run-in: Waratahs (h), Kings (h), Sunwolves (h), sharks (a).
Under Sanzaar's playoff's format, the four conference winners host a quarter-final (currently the Crusaders, Lions, Stormers and Brumbies), the next four positions are made up of the best next three Australasian conference teams (currently Chiefs, Hurricanes and Highlanders), plus a South African conference team (currently Sharks).