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    Super Rugby: log credibility worsens

    2016-05-24 11:50

    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, Bulls, Stormers.

    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 Africa.

    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 Sunwolves.

    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 ( 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 quarter-finals.

    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 …

    *Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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    23 February 2017
    • Rebels v Blues, AAMI Park 10:45
    24 February 2017
    • Highlanders v Chiefs, 08:35
    • Reds v Sharks, Suncorp Stadium 11:00
    25 February 2017
    • Sunwolves v Hurricanes, Prince Chichibu Memorial Stadium 06:15
    • Crusaders v Brumbies, AMI Stadium 08:35
    • Waratahs v Force, Allianz Stadium 10:45
    • Cheetahs v Lions, Toyota Stadium 15:05
    • Kings v Jaguares, Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium 17:15
    • Stormers v Bulls, Cape Town 19:30


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