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June 27, 2017

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Bulls' and Chiefs' losses further mix up Super playoff puzzle

WELLINGTON, New Zealand, -- Super 15 rugby fans will have to wait until the final match of the tournament's longest-ever regular season to find out which six teams, of eight still in contention, will compete in the playoffs.

That match, at Pretoria between the three-time champion Bulls and their South African compatriots the Lions, will furnish the last piece of the playoff puzzle.

Losses suffered by the first-place Waikato Chiefs and the previously fourth-place Bulls in the 17th of 18 rounds have complicated the mix, meaning none of the eight teams still in playoff contention can entirely relax as the regular season concludes next weekend.

What is certain is that the Chiefs will finish atop the New Zealand conference, despite their 28-21 defeat on Friday to the Canterbury Crusaders, and the Stormers will top the South African conference after the Bulls' 32-10 loss to the Sharks and their own 13-6 win over the Cheetahs.

The ACT Brumbies lead the defending champion Queensland Reds by five points in the Australian conference after their 19-15 win over the New South Wales Waratahs on Saturday and the Reds' 19-13 win over the Otago Highlanders. The Brumbies face the Auckland Blues and the Reds face bitter interstate rivals the Waratahs in the final round, leaving little chance the Reds will be able to bridge the five-point gap between the teams and a much wider gulf of points differential.

The question of which teams will finish in first and second places, to earn a bye in the first stage of the playoffs, has still to be decided.

The Chiefs still top the standings by a point from the Stormers, after taking a bonus point from their loss to the Crusaders. The Brumbies are in third place, four points behind the Stormers, and can still finish in first or second if either of the top two teams stumble.

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