NZ S15 Conference 'strongest'
Christchurch - The Crusaders have rubbished South African claims that the Super Rugby conference system favours New Zealand and Australian sides.
According to the Stuff.co.nz website, the Sharks' New Zealand-born coach John Plumtree said the Australian and New Zealand conferences weren't nearly "as intense as ours here in South Africa".
Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder said on Monday: "I'd be quite happy to swap with (Plumtree). There are no easy teams in conference rugby.
"At this end, the Highlanders and Crusaders and Chiefs v Blues (in Round 2) showed how fiercely competitive the conference model is," he said. "Wait 'til you get down the track when you have a team ahead and all the other teams with nothing to play for you'll find how tough conference rugby is, because it's basically like an All Black trial.
"She's tough, rugged rugby and one thing about it, too, a lot of pressure produces fine players. Everyone can see how you can handle pressure. It's certainly not easy. It wouldn't get any tougher than our conference."
Crusaders scrumhalf Andy Ellis said New Zealand's conference was "by far the strongest", and was hugely challenging.
"When I was playing the Super 12 and Super 14, those local games, the New Zealand games, were always the toughest by far. That's just been doubled, really.
Ellis admitted "you've got to wonder" if the Australian conference might have been a little easier last year "with the Reds getting to play the Force and the Rebels" twice. "But at the same time, the best team seems to win, still, the Reds probably deserved the title last year."
The South Africa conference had "a couple of weaker sides", which meant the top teams might "get a bit of time off", he said. "Certainly, the New Zealand conference is by far the strongest. We're playing the toughest rugby week-in, week-out."