I'm going to do some power ranking each week, to indicate where the teams will possibly finish based on their current performances. Feel free to chime in with your thoughts - really I'm just looking for a bit of discussion on the boards! I'm ignoring the finals structure (i.e. one Oz team gets top 3 placing).
1 Stormers (+1)
This week the Crusaders showed that the Stormers are by no means invincible, giving them their first loss of the competition. The Stormers were able to grab a BP in the last seconds of the match, so they won't come away empty handed. They have a pretty easy draw ahead of them, with games against the Lions, Rebels, Force, and a depleted Reds side still to come. Importantly, once they complete their tour they won't have to leave SA again.
2 Chiefs (-1)
Strung it together a bit this past round, finally finishing off some of the great attacking opportunities they create and actually retaining possession. They aren't playing anywhere near their best rugby but have still managed to lose only one game. The Chiefs of old would've lost some of the close games they've had this season, particularly on the road. If they can grab a win this weekend against a potentially lethal Sharks team they will be well placed to take out the NZ conference - though it's still up in the air!
3 Crusaders (+4)
Managed to knock over the top side in the Stormers this week, and played some very good rugby. The Crusaders have always been more of a defence oriented team, and played accordingly this weekend. Some of their kicking was aimless, but much the same could be said for the Stormers. They don't have an easy draw ahead of them - though no NZ team does. At least they've gotten their SA tout out of the way.
4 Bulls (-1)
Though the Bulls are yet to go on their Australasian tour, they are still well placed to finish strongly. They don't have the toughest opposition on the road (Rebels, Waratahs, Highlanders, Chiefs), and have a bye the week before, so they shouldn't be hit too hard by the travel factor. Some of their opposition will have only recently returned from their away legs too. They'll need to bank maximum points against the Brumbies (Home) and Rebels if they want to steal the Stormer's spot.
5 Sharks (+3)
The Sharks are done with their tour of NZ and Oz, and probably have the easiest remaining draw of all the teams, and have two byes remaining. They only leave Durban a couple of times, and that's to play the cellar dwelling Lions and the somewhat erratic Cheetahs. If they can use their win against the Blues to give them some motivation, they are in a fantastic position to steal the second best SA team placing away from either the Bulls or the Stormers.
6 Reds (+3)
They will improve. With Mike Harris and Ben Lucas back this week (probably), they will look to play a similar game to what the Crusaders used this past week against the Stormers. They're done with their (disastrous) tour of the Republic, and with some key players coming back over the next few weeks they will almost certainly top the Australian conference.
7 Hurricanes (-2)
If they can continue to play with the speed and intensity they're currently employing they will be hard to beat on a dry surface. Probably the best thing going for this team is that they play a couple of teams who will be returning from trips overseas, while they'll be fresh. Being in the NZ conference means they still have many tough games to come, however. This week's match against the Crusaders could define their season.
8 Waratahs (+2)
Of the Australian teams they have the best draw remaining. Other than their tour to South Africa (where they play the Stormers and the Cheetahs), they play the majority of their tough games in NSW. Their final round match against the Reds will almost certainly decide who tops the Oz conference.
9 Highlanders (-5)
The Highlanders are in decline, and unless Mike Delany reinvigorates their game, they could be in trouble - especially with a tour of South Africa still to come. Though they have only lost two games so far, they have only won a single game in the last four weeks (along with a bye and two losses). The Highlanders defend stoutly, but they lack that killer blow needed to succeed in this competition. With Ben Smith, Kade Poki and Hosea Gear in the back three, they should be scoring more points, and if they aren't able to do so they could very well lose some games they desperately need to win.
10 Cheetahs (+1)
The Cheetahs have looked dangerous in their last three matches, losing narrowly to the Chiefs and Crusaders, and mustering a huge comeback to swamp the Hurricanes. With their tour out of the way, they will upset a multitude of teams. They still have two byes left, too. Were it not for their ridiculous draw, and a bit of a slow start, they could be looking at a top 8 finish. Close losses to the Brumbies and Lions don't help. Watch out touring teams!
11 Brumbies (-5)
Somehow the Brumbies have managed to sneak their way to the top of the Australian conference without playing very much rugby. They have only played one game outside of Australia so far (against the Chiefs, they lost), and will have a tough time of it when they tour to SA. If they can't upset some of the bigger teams, they could be looking at a very sad finish to the season.
12 Blues (+2)
The Blues have looked mediocre so far, but there is still a long way to go in the season. With the team they've got they will certainly knock over some big teams pretty soon, and if they can pull themselves together they will be a force come the last few weeks of the competition. Though I wouldn't bet on them, I also wouldn't bet against them. Watch this space.
13 Force (=)
The Force have fantastic forwards, and were it not for the loss of one Bieber faced first five, they could be looking at a much nicer placing right now. Their loose trio will keep them in almost all games, and they will probably amass a large number of losing bonus points over the weeks. Apart from a match or two where they been thumped, they haven't looked that bad. They've got a guaranteed eight points coming up too, with two byes remaining.
14 Rebels (-2)
Currently doing worse than they were last year - which is saying something! With Beale and O'Connor in the back divisions, and a couple of decent forwards, the Rebels have the ability to upset a couple of their Aussie opponents. Unfortunately, I don't see them getting wins against any teams from other countries.
15 Lions (=)
A very average team, all round. They still have to tour Australasia, and with the other four South African teams all fighting four play off spots (perhaps not the Cheetahs, but they're starting to look good), they realistically might not win any more games this season. Their only probable win is at home against the Rebels in the second to last round of the competition. Probably will be the 'meh'est game of the whole season.
So there you have it! Each week I'll post my thoughts on where the teams are heading - this week is based on a lot of what we've had so far. What are your thoughts?