By the time the Lions square up against the Sharks at King’s Park on Saturday, they may be in a position to decide who they host in next week’s Super Rugby quarter-finals.
As things stand, the Crusaders, Lions, Stormers and Brumbies are the four conference winners who will host a quarter-final, while the Hurricanes, Chiefs, Highlanders and Sharks have booked wildcard berths.
The Lions are second on the overall standings with 61 log points, two behind the Crusaders.
Assuming the status quo remains after the final round of league matches, the Highlanders (7th, 46 points) would travel to Johannesburg next week, while the Sharks (8th, 42) would head off to Christchurch.
The remaining quarter-finals would be contested by the Stormers (3rd, 39) and Chiefs (6th, 53) in Cape Town, and the Brumbies (4th, 34) and Hurricanes (5th, 54) in Canberra.
However, the Lions are in Durban on Saturday afternoon to battle a Sharks team that shares a common objective – booking a quarter-final rematch.
Meanwhile, the Highlanders (who host the Reds) would probably also prefer not to have to fly across the Indean Ocean to face the Lions when they could instead head 360kms north to face the Crusaders in Christchurch.
For Dunedin’s heroes, a win against the Reds will lock them into seventh spot and a match against whoever finishes second overall. They may well decide to rest a few key players, lose to the Reds and leave their fate in the Lions’ hands.
If the Highlanders do lose, the Lions will be in a position to set up a quarter-final rematch against the Sharks by losing in Durban – that would keep the Joburg team in second place (regardless of the Crusaders result) and boost the Sharks into seventh.
Of the four teams involved in the permutations, this would be seen as a great result, excluding the Crusaders who would prefer to see the Sharks fly in next week, rather than the Highlanders.
And the final twist? Should the Hurricanes get over the Crusaders in Wellington on Saturday morning, the Lions would have a shot at topping the log, and thus hosting a final should they get there.
Should they book an easier quarter-final opponent, or aim for top spot on the log?
Current quarter-final draw:
Crusaders (1) v Sharks (8)
Lions (2) v Highlanders (7)
Stormers (3) v Chiefs (6)
Brumbies (4) v Hurricanes (5)
Semi-final Draw (highest ranked team to host):
SF1: Winner QF1 v Winner QF4
SF2: Winner QF2 v Winner QF3
Final Draw (highest ranked team to host):
Final: Winner SF1 v Winner SF2