Who wins in the new system?
Super Rugby (Gallo Images)
Cape Town - After 9 rounds of the Super Rugby completed, the contenders are beginning to rise to the top and the 'also played' teams are sinking. The competition is fierce and there are no easy games on the schedule, but the difference between the champion contenders and the hopefuls boils down to what team make the least mistakes and how they finish off a game.
Every team has lost at least one game and most teams have accumulated bonus points for four tries, which now gives us a clear indication of what the table leaders should look like. In old terms the table should read as follows: (1) Chiefs ; (2) Stormers ; (3) Bulls ; (4) Highlanders ; (5) Crusaders ; (6) Brumbies ; (7) Waratahs ; etc.
By looking at this table as it stands, the finalists would be two teams from South Africa and two from New Zealand with Australia not getting a showing. This makes for simple logic, the best teams after the round-robin competition get a chance to slog it out to determine a winner.
This simple logic all changed at the beginning of last season when SANZAR implemented a new table and conference system. Simply put, the top team from each country gets a chance in the play off rounds while the next best three, regardless of country, get wild card slots. This allows for all the countries to have a representative to compete for the grand trophy. This all came about from a member union of SANZAR, and to a high degree, the broadcasters, complaining that their supporters and audience were left without a team to support come finals time.
When last did an Australian team win the Super Rugby pre-2011? (2004 Brumbies, if you were wondering). This lead to SANZAR agreeing that every country should have a representative in the finals, so that all parties involved, including broadcasters, don't have reason to whinge.
This maybe a pity-type structure, allowing overall underperforming teams a chance, but it disadvantages a better team. Looking now at the new table/conference system after 9 rounds: (1) Chiefs ; (2) Stormers ; (3) Brumbies ; (4) Bulls ; (5) Highlanders ; (6) Crusaders ; (7) Waratahs, it can be seen that The Brumbies leap frog into 3rd position from 6th (in the old system). This now puts pressure onto the Bulls, Highlanders and Crusaders to perform better to retain a spot in the play offs, while The Brumbies just have to worry about staying on top of the Australian Conference, no matter if they win or lose against statistically better teams.
In the end, when all things are said and done, the best team should lift the grand trophy, and the underperforming conference leaders are dumped efficiently as they simply haven't played well enough throughout the season and got their place in the finals due to a technical scoring system. This still does not help the teams that are performing well, but just not well enough to top their conference and have to fight for a wild card placement.
The question then becomes, is this conference system fair to the teams playing well, or is it simply dictated by the broadcasters to allow a team from their respective nations to compete so that they can sell more commercial time?
The bottom line comes down to advertising money and how much of it can a broadcaster make. The various broadcasters (Super Sport; Fox Sports; Sky Sports) have a direct impact on the outcome of finals, so it matters not if a team is disadvantaged by a scoring system, the all mighty chosen monetary currency rules all.
Who is the winner of the conference system then? Of course the team that plays well, makes the least mistakes, shuts out their opponents and finishes off a game, but they did get a bit of help from outside influences.