Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town – New Zealand’s mastery of
Vodacom Super Rugby this year only expands, leaving in its wake a crisis of
legitimacy for a competition which is seeing increasingly lamentable attendances
at certain venues.
The Highlanders and Hurricanes sat out Week
13, but it still saw advances for the three other franchises from that country,
and all at the expense of Australian opponents as the Crusaders, Chiefs and
even their least productive Blues earned victories (thumping ones in most
instances) over the Waratahs, Rebels and Force respectively.
What it all meant was that New Zealand
teams currently monopolise four of the top five berths for most points gained
up to this bend in the road, including the two loftiest perches with the Chiefs
on 42 points and Crusaders on 41.
If an overall table was judged on merit -- rather
than turned into a mathematical dog’s breakfast because of the various
conference-leading benefits -- then the current top eight would be, in
descending order: Chiefs, Crusaders, Lions, Highlanders, Hurricanes, Sharks,
Common denominator? No Australian side
making the cut, although in terms of the controversial conference stipulations,
the Waratahs do, in fact, enter the pecking order in the flattering rank of
number four and effectively at the expense of the Stormers – despite being a
bizarre 11 points shy of the fifth-ranked ‘Saders and advantaged by having a
home quarter-final against the Cantabrians under present circumstances.
If you were planning quarter-finals based
on a fair, logical soccer-style log system, where no team with fewer points
could ever lie above another with more, the present knockout line-up would be
(home teams first): Chiefs v Stormers, Crusaders v Bulls, Lions v Sharks and
Highlanders v Hurricanes.
But instead of New Zealanders worthily commanding
three home “QFs” they are only entitled to one under competition rules, and the
“official” clashes if determined today would be: Chiefs v Sharks, Lions v
Hurricanes, Bulls v Highlanders and Waratahs v Crusaders.
That seems patently unfair to the dominant
Kiwis, who would see three teams forced to play their fixtures out of the
country and two of them as far afield as the long-haul destination of South
And all despite the fact that the New
Zealand sides are additionally disadvantaged, when you think about it, by their
heavier emphasis on true strength versus strength scraps – mostly against each
other! – and not having the liberty, as some SA teams do, of playing double
rounds against immeasurably lamer ducks, with respect, like the Kings and
The system is causing increasing ripples
there, the latest muttering coming from Super Rugby and All Black fullback
legend Christian Cullen, writing in the Herald on Sunday (www.nzherald.co.nz) as he assessed the
rumour that the competition may even expand further soon.
“If the competition adds more new teams,
how long will it take for people to understand whatever new format they come up
with?” Cullen asked.
“It has (already) taken a while for people
to get their heads around it this year, given that you could have the
second-highest number of points but sit fifth on the table (Crusaders).”
I have probably said this before, but you
have to credit SARU for somehow getting the other partners in the SANZAAR
alliance to approve the present format guaranteeing two SA teams home
My advice would be for our title-interested
teams to try to make hay while the sun shines, because the status quo may well
not prove permanent.
Despite some South African teams
conveniently dodging New Zealand opposition altogether in ordinary season, the
lop-sidedness of the competition is reflected in the fact that the five sides
from NZ shores have amassed 185 points between them, and 39 wins.
A distant second come the South African
crew – and that despite them boasting an extra franchise, six – with 156 points
and 32 victories.
Even more hapless is the Aussie challenge:
their five sides have managed only 109 points, and 23 wins.
Meanwhile NZ teams have registered 209
tries between them, compared to the 142 of the Australian conference teams –
from one extra match thus far.
The SA try tally looks deceptively more
respectable on paper at 197, but again consider that there is an additional
side from our shores, and our teams have currently played as many as 12 more
fixtures than NZ line-ups.
Fairness? Credibility? My prediction is
that a mounting hullabaloo is in the offing on that score, something that will
properly come to light when the actual quarter-finals are determined and there
is the potential for some rather grumpy customers in the draw …
our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing