Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town – There are increasing signs, even if things may
yet take a turn for the better, that Super Rugby 2015 will have another of its
“legitimacy tests” at the end of ordinary season.
The overall table has looked more than a little eccentric to
casual observers for much of the campaign thus far, given the cast-in-stone
requirement that each of the three conference leaders automatically occupy the
top three berths ... despite a marked dominance of the competition, generally
speaking, by the New Zealand sides.
So as things
currently stand, the team with the second most log points, the Chiefs, is
unjustly restricted to fourth despite being four points better than the
second-placed Stormers and five better than the third-placed Brumbies – and that
with a game in hand over both!
I still get knowledgeable sports-lovers scratching their
heads and asking me (not always in such diplomatic terms) “how does it possibly
make sense, or be deemed fair?”
And it remains, at the end of a day, a very understandable
question to ask, even if those of us who more closely monitor the competition
know it has everything to do with artificially ensuring there will be as many
bums on seats and eyes on televisions across the three SANZAR countries
involved, for as long as possible in the finals series phase.
In other words, it denies any one country the opportunity to
monopolise things to such an extent that fans in the other two nations may be
in danger of “switching off” the competition too early because their parochial
sides of choice have been blown out of it.
It cannot yet be ruled out this year that as many as three
NZ outfits – most likely the Hurricanes, Chiefs and Highlanders, though the
wily Crusaders are still lurking – may end ordinary season with the most points
of any teams, yet two of them will be booted to berths outside the top three in
the finals-series pecking order.
If that does occur, there is the danger that the system will
look its most flawed and illegitimate in the five years of the three-conference
There have been two seasons (2014 and 2011) when the natural
order of things has happily held sway, with each of the three conference
winners also happening to be the trio with the most log points – exactly as
rugby purists would presumably wish.
In 2013 there was only minor injustice, as the Crusaders,
curtailed to fourth when they ought to have been third on overall performance,
ended on the same number of points (60) as third-placed Aussie conference
winners the Brumbies: the Cantabrians had won one more match and boasted a
marginally better points differential (+139, as opposed to +135) as well.
But 2012 was the year which remains, thus far, the most
distorted in terms of legitimacy: the Stormers (66 points) and Chiefs (64)
rightly occupied spots one and two, but the third-placed Reds, the
best-performing Australians, only got 58 – all of the three teams below them,
the Crusaders (61), Bulls and Sharks (59 each) had achieved superior log-points
Fortunately there is still time for this season’s spread of
power between the three competing countries to take on a more “even” look, and
that is because there are still several upper-regions derbies to come involving
The runaway leaders of the competition, the Hurricanes, for
example, still have to face both tussles with the Chiefs (the first of those in
the next round), plus tough single games against both the Highlanders and
With all the potential “neutralising” that may occur within
the New Zealand conference, there is still the chance that the most
competitive, ambitious teams from the other two nations will make healthy
advances as a result and give the overall table a more natural look at the end
of ordinary season.
Yet that may not occur if, say, the Bulls have a poor
overseas tour, the Stormers and Lions lose a couple more times during the
run-in, and the Brumbies and Waratahs stay inconsistent in an Australian
That does open up the potential for two rather “lucky”
tickets to berths two and three on the overall table for the playoffs phase.
Ah well, never mind ... from next season, and the
introduction of an expanded (again!) competition featuring an elaborate new
structure, the credibility of the system will be tested even more rigorously,
you can be sure.
That is because, just for starters in a complex set-up,
there will be two regional groups – one all-Australasian, and the other a
dubiously-named “South African” one that will also feature new franchises from
Argentina and Japan and quite probably look suspiciously the easier of these
We will thus move even further away from the once-treasured
everyone-plays-everyone model, so I suspect it is there and then that the Super
Rugby legitimacy fun may really begin ... *Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing