Connolly: New format unfair
Sydney - Former Australia and Reds coach John Connolly has called on SANZAR to eliminate the "unfairness" in the current Super Rugby format.
SANZAR, the governing body for southern hemisphere rugby tournaments involving South Africa, New Zealand and Australia, expanded their premier domestic event this year to include 15 teams and changed it from a round-robin to a three-conference competition. This meant teams played more derbies within their own country and each side only played 12 of the other franchises in the tournament.
"I don't like the format, it means every team misses out on playing two of the other sides and I worry that it's not an even playing field as a result," Connolly said in a telephonic interview from Rustenburg, where he is coaching at the Investec International Rugby Academy.
"The format also definitely favours the Australian teams. If you look at the standings, Australia have three of the bottom teams, which makes it easier in the conference system for their top teams to go through.
"The whole thing is unfair and it needs to be looked at," Connolly said.
The Reds finished at the top of the standings and will host a semi-final against the Blues, who beat the Waratahs in a playoff in Brisbane last Friday. The Stormers play the Crusaders at Newlands in Saturday's other semi-final.
While Connolly said the Stormers had an excellent chance of being South Africa's third successive southern hemisphere champions (the Blue Bulls won in 2009 and 2010), he said the Crusaders had been the best team in the tournament because of the exceptional circumstances they had to overcome after earthquakes devastated their Christchurch base earlier this year.
“The Crusaders have overcome a massive challenge in that they have had to play every game away, even travelling to England to play the Sharks. Plus they had injuries to Israel Dagg, Sean Maitland and Richie McCaw, and yet they still managed to finish third. They probably would have finished second if their first game after the earthquake wasn’t called off as a draw.
“So the Crusaders have produced the best performance, to overcome all those emotional issues, they’ve been the best side.
“But the best side doesn’t always win. They have to win twice on the road now as well,” Connolly said.
Australia's 2007 Rugby World Cup coach said this year's rugby showpiece will be a shootout between the three SANZAR nations and England.
"I think four teams are pretty certain for the semi-finals - New Zealand versus the Springboks and Australia against England.
"You can argue that the World Cup is easier to win than Super Rugby and I expect the major teams to win their pools quickly without much sweat and their quarter-finals. Unless Ireland beat Australia - they've given us problems in the past - and throw the Wallabies into another pool, or South Africa drop a game they're not meant to. That would mean an Australia v South Africa quarter-final.
"The northern hemisphere sides will show a lot of improvement because they have a lot more time to prepare for the World Cup, and England are a fine side.
"Australia can't afford any injuries, their big question will be whether they can replace key players. New Zealand and South Africa can handle injuries better, but if the All Blacks don't have Dan Carter, that could quickly derail them.
"For the Springboks, a lot depends on who will play flyhalf - Morne Steyn, Pat Lambie or Butch James. We could get bad weather and then Steyn will come into his own. But if the weather is fine, then it could be James they turn to. They've also got (scrumhalf) Fourie du Preez of course to get their backline going," Connolly said.