7 teams in Super 14 semifinal mix

SYDNEY - After a slow start, the Super 14 is building up to an extraordinary climax, with seven teams still in contention for the semifinals heading into this weekends final round.

SYDNEY - After a slow start, the Super 14 is building up to an extraordinary climax, with seven teams still in contention for the semifinals heading into this weekends final round.

None of those seven teams, including the defending champions and current leaders the Canterbury Crusaders, are assured of a spot in the playoffs.

While half the teams are out of the running, five of this weekend's seven games could have a bearing on deciding the final four. New Zealand's Crusaders and South Africa's Sharks both look certain to make the playoffs and host a semifinal.

The Crusaders lead the competition with 41 points and can still finish in the top two even if they lose their final match to Waikato, though it is still mathematically possible for them to miss out altogether.

The Sharks have won more games than any other team this season but are a point behind the Crusaders because they failed to accrue as many bonus points.

They too could make the playoffs even if they lose their final game against the Stormers.

The other five teams vying for playoff spots are Auckland (New Zealand), the Bulls (South Africa), Waikato (New Zealand), ACT Brumbies (Australia) and Western Force (Australia).

The Force only have a faint chance of advancing, needing to win their final game against Auckland and hope other results go their way, but the other four teams all have realistic chances.

Despite playing without some of their best players after New Zealand officials ordered most of the All Blacks to miss the first half of the season, Auckland led the competition for much of the year before a late slump saw them lose three in a row.

"We've got only ourselves to blame for that predicament," Auckland coach David Nucifora told reporters. "Obviously, everything is riding on this game now."

The Bulls, tied with Auckland on 37 points, look to have the easiest finish of the teams in the running with a home match against the bottom-placed Queensland Reds. The Brumbies need to beat Otago in Dunedin. - Reuters

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