The Super 14 serious stuff finally arrived
in Round 8 as the top four teams started meeting – and now it barely stops. For the Waratahs
and Brumbies, the next three weeks will indicate which team has the best chance of playing the
world’s top provincial team, the Crusaders,
in the May 27 final.

Only the most wishful opposition fan could
deny the Crusaders clear favouritism for their sixth Super 12/14 title after
ruthlessly dispatching the Hurricanes on Saturday. This Friday it’s the
NSW Waratahs’ turn to show if they can find a chink in the Crusaders’
impressive armour. Only a foolish Tahs fan would bet on it.

Aside from the Crusaders’ excellence, Matt
Rogers remains injured and NSW still seems to lose all chance of magic without
his spark. And the game is being played at Christchurch’s Jade
Stadium – a ground the Waratahs would
rather forget.

Kiwi site Xtramsn
bills Friday’s game as the match of the season, but they don’t go near
suggesting the “Worry-tahs” have what it might take. Even The SMH yesterday admitted NSW would have to play mistake-free rugby to win.

The following weekend, Waratahs v Brumbies
in Sydney should finalise
the Australian pecking order and the week after the Brumbies meet the
Hurricanes in Canberra.

The final match-ups of the top four,
Waratahs v Hurricanes and Brumbies v Crusaders, are in the last round, May 12
and 13, preserving the theatre of semi-finals placings to the last.

Among the rest, there is an exquisite
torture in watching the Force get better each week and closer to winning their
first game, while it’s just torture for the Reds.

Of course there’s always hope in Rugby. For some, it’s hope that
next year could be better. For others, it’s maybe the Crusaders getting food
poisoning en mass. Anyone know where to find a certain South African waitress last
seen on the eve of the 1995 World Cup final?