Note down the Crusaders for pole position all the way to the August 4 final. The Australian conference just got tighter, and the Lions will not give up the South African conference lead without a fight.
1 Crusaders (First in NZC)
That was some victory over the Hurricanes. Everything went against the home side with injuries, but they hung tough, played the conditions, and lent on men such as Scott Barrett and Richie Mo'unga to call the tune. Imagine what they could do at full strength.
2 Jaguares (Second in SAC)
They should make the playoffs from here after their sixth win on the bounce. The 29-13 home win over the Sharks was notable for clinching the bonus point and wing Ramiro Moyano notching a treble. We will see if the Pumas can replicate this form in the June window.
3 Hurricanes (Second in NZC)
Not good enough, really. The Hurricanes have been winning ugly, but now they have lost ugly. Beauden Barrett is not the scapegoat, but his passing and kicking games were off the mark in Christchurch. Ben Lam was underemployed, but the pack took a beating. Drawing board time.
4 Lions (First in SAC)
The Lions drew deep on their well of resolve to edge the Stormers 26-23 in Cape Town, always a tough place to claim the points. They were helped by a Raymond Rhule red card in a clash full of yellow cards. That man Madosh Tambwe crossed for the match-winner to seal a telling comeback.
5 Chiefs (Third in NZC)
There was so much to like about the Chiefs' 39-27 win over the Waratahs. Less than five days off the plane from South Africa, they relied on the senior pros Charlie Ngatai, Brodie Retallick and Damian McKenzie, who chalked up 19 points, to see them through a fast Waratahs start. With Nick White clearly doing good things with the scrum, the Chiefs will enjoy the challenge of the Crusaders coming to town.
6 Waratahs (First in AC)
It is fair to say the Waratahs will play much worse and win. After the defeat to the Chiefs, they have opened the door to the Rebels, who now trail by just one in the Aussie conference. But they uncorked some sweet backline moves to trouble the Chiefs early, and that Beale-Folau combination can cut some serious capers.
7 Highlanders (Fourth in NZC)
Captain Ash Dixon was grumpy after the 18-15 win over the Reds in Suncorp. It was far from vintage Highlanders' rugby, but those four competition points are like gold in the run to the playoffs. Liam Squire was back with a bang, and other front-liners return after the requisite rest. They are right in the thick of this competition.
8 Rebels (Second in AC)
Big jump for the Rebels. They took full advantage of the Sunwolves' decision to rest some key personnel and, helped by five tries between Marika Koroibete and Jack Maddocks, dispatched the Japanese franchise 40-13. What they would give to now take down the Blues at Eden Park.
9 Brumbies (Third in AC)
Who saw that result in Pretoria coming? Down a man and on the scoreboard, they engineered a 38-28 win over the Bulls. But realistically, they are still well out of the playoffs picture.
10 Reds (Fourth in AC)
The Reds will be gutted, because they scrummed and tackled their hearts out in the narrow loss to the Highlanders. Taniela Tupou is looking more and more like a man realising his potential, especially in the set-piece, where he has never been weak, despite what some may say. They should give the Waratahs some serious trouble this weekend.
11 Sharks (Third in SAC)
A moment of madness from Ruan Botha cost the Sharks dearly in BA. They struggle with sides outside of New Zealand. Get the psychologist in.
12 Bulls (Fifth in SAC)
John Mitchell has no hair to tear out, so we are unsure what he will do after the Bulls imploded in the second stanza at Loftus against the Brumbies. They too look out of the playoffs race. Start planning for 2019.
13 Stormers (Fourth in SAC)
Season over for the Stormers, who promise much but deliver little. They have two remaining games, and are no guarantees to win either of those.
14 Blues (Fifth in NZC)
A quiet bye week as they reflect on a prime chance to win their first home game of 2018, against the Rebels on Saturday.
15 Sunwolves (Fifth in AC)
The Sunwolves could not maintain the momentum, falling heavily in Melbourne, so they must be throwing all their ammo at the Brumbies on Sunday.