The Crusaders have just firmed as favourites, without kicking a ball in anger, but the South African conference is far from decided. The Hurricanes' hold on a home quarter-final looks tenuous.
1 Crusaders (First in NZC)
After a productive June in which they racked up two non-competition victories and made more resignings, the Crusaders enjoyed their bye, adding no new bruises and watching the Lions and Hurricanes fall over. Locked and loaded for home advantage through the playoffs.
2 Jaguares (Second in SAC)
The Pumas were listless during the June internationals, but many switched to the Jaguares jersey and picked up where they left off in May. Lock Guido Petti handles the ball like a No 10, while wing Bautista Delguy's solo try was a thing of beauty. Mario Ledesma's charges are now putting serious heat on the Lions as they finish with a two-match tour across the Atlantic.
3 Chiefs (Third in NZC)
Sometimes you just cannot explain the outright bizarre. But what we can say of the extraordinary events in Suva is that the depleted Chiefs forward pack went straight up the middle, helped by the fact that Liam Messam has decided to finish his NZ career with a command display to remember. That allowed men like Solomon Alaimalo and Toni Pulu to play like All Blacks on the flanks. The only bum note was that they could not secure a tryscoring bonus point.
4 Waratahs (First in AC)
The Rebels gave the Waratahs some serious curry in Melbourne, but the Tahs may just have sealed the Australian conference with the 31-26 result. Bernard Foley's 16 points were decisive, as was the 12th try of the season by wing Taqele Naiyaravoro, set up by none other than Kurtley Beale.
5 Hurricanes (Second in NZC)
Ill-disciplined and lacking fluency. That was the first reaction to the Hurricanes' loss in Canberra, the third this season by a NZ side to an Australian franchise. We also know that Nehe Milner-Skudder has no left foot and TJ Perenara can fly. Julian Savea and Gareth Evans were issued warnings by SANZAAR. A home quarter-final still beckons, but they need to up the ante at home against the Blues.
6 Lions (First in SAC)
Now is not the time for the SA conference leaders to falter, not when they fell 31-24 to the Sharks in Durban, and now have to sit back for the bye while the Jaguares are poised to leapfrog them.
7 Highlanders (Fourth in NZC)
We had the Highlanders at No 5 on the power rankings right up to kickoff in Suva. Then something palpable happened to them. In scenes reminiscent of the Crusaders putting 63 on the Waratahs in the opening stanza of their 2002 clash, the Chiefs shredded the 'home' side to the tune of 42-0. To the Highlanders' credit, they did reply with four tries of their own, but it was too little, and much too late.
8 Rebels (Second in AC)
There was gnashing of the teeth after Billy Meakes' dumb play led to a yellow card, as the Rebels were competitive against the Tahs, but could not clinch the big moments. Now they need to win in Brisbane to keep any sort of pressure on NSW.
9 Brumbies (Third in AC)
The Brumbies did well to beat the Hurricanes 24-12 in Canberra, but it could have been even more had two ACT players not been held up over the line. The pack was industrious and the defence hung tough. Now they think can squeak into the playoffs, but they will first need to lower the Chiefs in Hamilton before they can entertain that possibility.
10 Sharks (Third in SAC)
That 'rugby miracle' could still happen with the Sharks after they tipped over the Lions. They need to edge the Rebels, and are three points adrift with two winnable clashes, starting with the Stormers in Cape Town, ahead.
11 Reds (Fourth in AC)
The Reds showed their respect for Jerome Kaino with a guard of honour before kickoff, and their scrum was dominant. That was the end of the good news. The Reds backs just do not match the sterling grunt of the forwards. Growing pains for Brad Thorn's charges.
12 Bulls (Fourth in SAC)
The topsy-turvy season of the Bulls continues apace but it mattered not that Jesse Kriel scored a brace and Handre Pollard chalked up 22 points in Singapore. They shipped 42 points to the Sunwolves and that cannot happen if you want to be serious playoffs contenders.
13 Stormers (Fifth in SAC)
The Stormers disappoint me, so imagine how their fans must be feeling? Now they have just this weekend's clash with the Sharks to play, and the visitors will be primed to take a chunk out of them.
14 Blues (Fifth in NZC)
Erase the first 20 minutes and most of the scrums from Friday night's clash with the Reds. The rest was okay. We learned that the Ioane boys are a class above in this Blues outfit. This was their first win at home, but was not good enough to raise them up the power rankings.
15 Sunwolves (Fifth in AC)
How well is Michael Little playing in the Sunwolves' midfield? They could yet climb off the bottom of the Australian conference if their attacking game, with some classic Tony Brown set-piece moves, is matched by more defensive starch.