Ash fails to scupper Super Rugby showdowns

Private planes, charter flights and ferries have been engaged to ensure Super rugby's decisive final round...

New Super Rugby logo. Picture: SANZAR

Private planes, charter flights and ferries have been engaged to ensure Super rugby's decisive final round of crunch clashes can go ahead this weekend despite the effects of a volcanic eruption in Chile.

An ash cloud spewing from a South American volcano was an unlikely disruption to the southern hemisphere's provincial championship but organisers SANZAR were forced to step in when flights in Australia and New Zealand were cancelled for fear of engine failure.

The Otago Highlanders will take a charter flight on Thursday to Auckland for Friday's clash with the Blues, who need to end a run of four losses with a victory at Eden Park to ensure they qualify for the six-team playoffs.

The Canterbury Crusaders fly to Wellington on a private plane for Saturday's match with the Hurricanes, which they might also need to win to ensure the Blues do not pip them to the top spot in the New Zealand conference and an easier run in the playoffs.

Although the seven-times champions' players will fly to Wellington, limited space on the DC 3 plane means support staff and equipment will cross Cook Strait by ferry.

"We are relieved at this stage to have resolved these issues," SANZAR chief Greg Peters said in a statement. "Obviously until all teams are where they need to be for this weekend's games we will continue to monitor the situation.

"This has been the second major disruption to Super rugby after the Christchurch quake earlier this year and it has again provided us with a big challenge as we were dealing with matters beyond our control."

The table-topping Queensland Reds, who have already secured the Australian conference title but will want to win their last match against the Waikato Chiefs to ensure they top the overall standings, left for New Zealand on Thursday.

Injuries rather than travel problems have been foremost in the mind of Reds coach Ewen McKenzie but having scoured local clubs for replacements -- including 33-year-old former All Black winger Caleb Ralph -- he is confident his battered squad will finish the regular season on a high.

"The injuries aren't worrying us. It's just a bit of a distraction ... but it doesn't affect the flow of the team," McKenzie told reporters this week.

"It's more about how we manage the week. We've got an opportunity against the Chiefs (to top the standings) and we have to make sure we get it right."

Travel is not a concern for the New South Wales Waratahs, who play their final match against ACT Brumbies at the Sydney Olympic stadium, and they will be more worried about tripping up against their near-neighbours on Saturday.

Victory would guarantee the injury-hit Waratahs a place in the top six but, after a miserable season, the twice-champion Brumbies have enjoyed something of a resurgence over the last two weeks.

"It doesn't get any bigger than this. Win, and we're in the finals; it's as simple as that," said Waratahs forward Dave Dennis, who plays number eight in place of Wycliff Palu who broke his shoulder in last week's 33-7 win over the Highlanders.

"We showed last week that we're capable of playing an exciting brand of rugby at the business end of the year and we want to bring the same mindset on Saturday night."


The most intense clash of the weekend will take place in Pretoria on Saturday, when the twice defending champion Bulls face the Sharks in front of a crowd of 50,000 with both sides almost certain to need a win to extend their seasons.

The Bulls have won six successive games, including last week's 19-16 win over the South Africa conference-leading Stormers, and will be strongly fancied to triumph in a re-run of the Super 14 final of 2007, when they claimed the first of their three titles.

Victor Matfield and fellow lock Bakkies Botha are likely to be playing their last match for the Bulls at Loftus Versfeld but the battle-hardened Springboks will have no time for sentiment in the do-or-die encounter with the Durban-based Sharks.

"We've got a competition to win and we said at the start that we will sort those things out after the season," Matfield told a news conference this week. "We just want to do well and we are trying to get those emotions out of the way."