S15’s big credibility problem

2012-05-15 13:32

Cape Town – “How can you have a league table when it is not actually a league table?”

That was the entirely reasonable, in so many respects, question a German-born friend asked just after a group of us had watched – for our sins – the Super Rugby match between the Stormers and Cheetahs on television on Saturday.

He is much more of a soccer devotee, not too surprisingly, and was thoroughly bemused when the latest overall table was displayed on the screen ... showing the Brumbies in third place yet as many as six points behind the fourth-placed Stormers.

We had to explain the intricacies of the conference system to him, where the leader of each of the South African, New Zealand and Australian conferences is guaranteed a berth in the top three, come what may.

“Sounds a bit dodgy,” was his response.

Frank was clearly chewing on it with an inevitable football slant – after all, in that code logs do tend to make altogether less jarring, baffling reading.

Soccer mercifully also doesn’t have the system (and to this day I stubbornly insist it is stupid and superfluous, despite hearing all the reasons offered for it) where teams having bye weekends get granted four automatic points each time.

League tables in the world’s premier team sport, after all, are perfectly easy to understand: if Team X happens to be a point ahead of Team Y, you can very quickly say to yourself upon swift further perusal, for instance: “Ah, but I see Team Y has two games in hand.”

And if soccer fans can easily digest the logical simplicity of orthodox tables, I fail to see why rugby fans shouldn’t be able to do the same ... and as before.

But let’s forget for the time being the concept of bonus points for not playing: my main, increasing beef is with the artificiality of the conference system and the legitimacy issues which look like coming to the fore in 2012 as a result.

Last season, the first greatly re-jigged one of Super Rugby, obvious structural flaws in the system were masked by the happy occurrence of a healthy regional balance of power: the winners of all three conferences (Reds, Stormers and Crusaders respectively) were also the top three on the overall table on the conventional grounds of most points accumulated.

The next three, and also thus qualifying for the playoffs phase, also happened to come from one each of the conferences, making for an ideal and well-merited onward scrap between pairs of teams from each of the three great SANZAR rivals – in short, no problem.

But this year, with the collective Australian challenge looking notably more shaky, the possibility does exist that in pure, points-amassed terms, no Aussie team cracks the top six (pleasingly from our point of view, that particular real estate currently boasts three South African tenants).

Of course, though, one Aussie franchise must end within the top three by tournament stipulation, with the Brumbies currently the likeliest to do so but still facing a challenge from a reawakening Reds outfit ... all of the Waratahs, Rebels and Force look pretty much like also-rans.

I imagine SANZAR bosses, and especially those with Aussie blood, are desperately willing the Brumbies and/or Reds to end ordinary season strongly, because if they don’t the credibility of the system will, I have little doubt, come into really sharp focus among neutrals for the first time.

We all know that television is a powerful tool, and clearly the enforced presence of at least one team from each nation in the playoffs is a wily move to ensure that one country does not drop off the viewership-figures radar violently right from the outset of that phase.

 I don’t wish the Australian teams ill-fortune in any way, let it be stated ... after all, perhaps the balance of power will shift again in the coming years and a different “lame duck” conference takes root.

But the rugby union bosses from that neck of the woods overwhelmingly got what they wanted anyway when the Super Rugby concertina suddenly stretched dramatically through to early August, basically giving them the “domestic competition” in many senses that they had sought.

Was it really necessary to fiddle the format to such an extent that the all-important playoffs have a hollow ring structurally?

That’s right, Frank, I also think the format is “dodgy”.

And I know there are plenty of seasoned rugby fans who take the same view ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing


  • Staal - 2012-05-15 13:47

    The fans said the Conference system is dodgy way back when before it even started. Why is this a new revelation to the media? (1) All teams should play each other at least once. How could this have even been considered? (2) Get rid of all the derbies. This is an international competition. We want to see our domestic teams playing against the foreign teams. Now I have to root against SA sides for half the competition? Ridiculous. (3) Get rid of the Conferences. Why was the guy that brought this up not laughed out of the room? The issue about points for a bye is a very unimportant issue. It really is. The crux is the above points. Fix that and you fix the competition. Too many derbies also slant the competition as not all Conferences will be equally strong. This whole system is a bugger up.

      steyts - 2012-05-15 13:49

      Presies!!!!!! Soos iemand gister gese het, "Drown that man with bells!!"

      BlouMasjien - 2012-05-15 13:55

      @Staal, ek kan dit nie better stel nie !

      Felix - 2012-05-15 14:21

      Since 2008 the Ausies have been dropping drastically in semis appearances (where all the money is). This was just their way to stay on the money train. Their buddies in NZ backed them up, gotta love democracy.

      Alan - 2012-05-15 14:31

      I agree with you Staal on all points except this stupid points for a bye thing. It distorts the log in that you have to look at each team's win and bonus points to see where they actually SHOULD be on the log. I know it all balances out in the end but it is STUPID STUPID STUPID. Rob Houwing says he has heard reasons offered for it and maybe he can pass these on but I bet none of them make logical sense

      Johan - 2012-05-15 14:36

      En dan wil hulle verswakte spanne nog ok in bring !!!

      Lungani - 2012-05-15 16:40

      ...... to be quite honest the people who sat, decided and agreed to such nonsense really needs to be scrutinised if they were not under any influence. Because how do you explain even to grade 6 school child that the one with lower mark still has to be given much honours and respect above the one who had workded so hard for higher marks?. My wife does not want to watch anymore Super 14 because of this CRAZY concept that demotivates players/teams rather than motivate them.. I have never seen such a thing before in my life no matter what reason anyone can justify this by SANZAR. Please scarp it before it is too late.

      Ross - 2012-05-15 16:44

      The points for a bye actually makes a lot of sense as it corrects for the distortion that occurs in the log when teams are placed higher up in the log merely because they have played more games. It gives a fairer reflection of where the teams should be placed on the log. For example the Bulls would not be top of the log if 4 points were not given for a bye as the Chiefs have played more games.

      frans.visserdsb - 2012-05-15 17:11

      i agree 100% - i hate the conference system, i Hate that i should hope for SA teams to lose against overseas competition, i hate that it protects the weak... this should be a game of the best playing against the best. play each other once, half the games will be at home, half will be away if you have 15 teams. you will play 14 games. this long drawn out season gets boring even for a rugby fan like me. i don't really want to get up at the crack of dawn to watch the waratahs play the rebels twice...

      Owentjie - 2012-05-15 17:34

      I think this format actually suits us. I cant remember, but didnt SA teams travel for 4 or 5 games. Now they only have to travel for 3 i think. In terms of that, I think that has helped. Maybe it would be a little more realistic that for each country to end the top three, they need to atleast fall in the top 6, if that makes sense. That way its not as bad as it is now that a team that is 7 th could end up in the top 3

      Staal - 2012-05-15 18:26

      @Owentjie - It does slightly make our travel better. We used to play 4-5 Australasian games. Now we always play 4 away and 4 home for a total of 8 foreign games. BUT that can be solved by putting some rules in the scheduling. Even now why are NZ and AUS play 2 games in SA and then often return home for a local game. The scheduling should force them to play their foreign games in one go just like we have to. That will even it out a lot instead of giving them a nice little break half way.

      Derrick - 2012-05-15 20:46

      Your comments 180 thumbs up I thumbs down - enough said !!

      marius.koen2 - 2012-05-16 13:13

      I like the local derbies.

  • steyts - 2012-05-15 13:47

    I agree, it's crazy!!!

  • geoffrey.stokker - 2012-05-15 13:47

    The impression that I get from people that I speak to (and I can't claim to have a statistical sample) that a lot of people have turned off the televisions and gone out to do something else because the format just isn't that enjoyable anymore.

      Renny - 2012-05-15 14:04

      I disagree, I love every moment of the Super rugby, my favorite compassion every year. The scoring table makes perfect sense to me.

      geoffrey.stokker - 2012-05-15 14:06

      Like I said I didn't have that statistical sample. This is just talking to the people I come into contact with regarding rugby.

      Pietie - 2012-05-15 16:23

      @Renny How exactly does it make sense?

  • Michal - 2012-05-15 13:48

    On top of all the above mentioned, it should also be kept in mind that teams within a specific conference play each other twice. Thereby, further "artificially" augmenting the performance of the 'lame duck' conference teams.

      Matti - 2012-05-15 14:35

      Really important point. It is an absolute advantage for any team if the rest of their conference sucks. Any team in a really strong conference have to work so much harder to be in the top 2 of their conference, and then can still be behind a team from a really crap conference. It's rewarding mediocrity.

      BlousteBlou - 2012-05-15 15:09

      To me, this is one of the most important faults. I would love to play to Force twice for a definite 10 points, and then not play i.e. the Chiefs at all. Joke!

      Ross - 2012-05-15 16:32

      The problem really lies in the fact that there is no rugby union domestic competition in Australia as there is both Aussie Rules and Rugby League which is popular- Rugby Union just can't compete. To try rectify the problem the conference system was implemented so they could have their domestic competition within the Super Rugby season.

      frans.visserdsb - 2012-05-15 17:16

      Ross - supporting the Australian Domestic rugby should not be our problem. they must start their own competition - we did, and called it the Vodacom cup. yes, it runs concurrently with the S15, but how difficult is it to start a domestic competition? Look at Varsity cup in SA - it started a couple of years ago and is hugely popular. Maybe we should send them a few of our experts to showthem how to do it.

      Ross - 2012-05-15 18:36

      They in fact did start a domestic competition in 2007 but was scrapped the following year after generating a 4.7 mil A$ loss. I agree Frans, that they should not make their problems our problems. There must be another way around this.

  • Barry - 2012-05-15 13:50

    Not only does the conference system make a farce out of the game but the real draw power and attraction of super rugby has always been the opportunity for local teams to measure themselves against their overseas counterparts. With this new system where local teams do not get to play all the overseas based teams and we rather have a currie cup on steroids with a few outside influences much of the appeal of this competition has been lost. Why must SA and NZ rugby supporters pay to lift the game in Aus. Makes no sense, rather back to the old.

      Gary - 2012-05-15 15:02

      Go Back to the old then. You are clearly a superior rugby player......just you an NZ to play with.....

      Staal - 2012-05-15 18:28

      @Barry - "but the real draw power and attraction of super rugby has always been the opportunity for local teams to measure themselves against their overseas counterparts." Exactly

      Charl - 2012-05-16 01:58

      @ Barry - exactly, we are not here to hand hold the aussies, the top 6 should go through irrespective of where they are from (right now it is the SA / NZ teams), that way you will have the strongest play off competition and a true reflection of who performed the best throughout the regular season, it is a quota system allowing for a weaker team to make the playoffs

  • Schalk - 2012-05-15 13:51

    i agree, i just cant see anyone justify how a team (lets say Brumbies on i.e 39 points) would have a home play off where a team like (lets say the Stormers on 45) would have to travel for a play off game...luckily its only till 2015...

  • hans.schouwstra.7 - 2012-05-15 13:55

    Let us just go back by playing home and away with no bonus points for a bye(silly idea) and your top 4 teams irrespective play in the play offs. But that wont happen because our Ausie friends will lose viewership thus money.

  • Karl - 2012-05-15 14:01

    I say go back to the old super 12.I would rather have a quality competition where everybody plays everybody than a bigger competition just for the sake of getting more teams involved. Let the losing side from each country lose its place bit like what they have planned for the super kings & lose the derbies that's what the curie cup is for. Using an international club competition to get a domestic league going is not the way to go about it.

      Alan - 2012-05-15 14:41

      So in 2016 we have the Bulls, Sharks, Stormers and Kings!

      BlousteBlou - 2012-05-15 15:12

      I would like 3 teams from each country, playing each other once - with the top 4 going to the play offs.

  • Malcolm - 2012-05-15 14:07

    The current format of the game is directly related to the type of rugby the involved teams play. This has really affected the entertainment in rugby.get rid of this crappy system

  • Terry - 2012-05-15 14:09

    The Aussies have now got 5 teams - they can play their own domestic tournament with those teams. We should go back to a Super 12 with the best 4 teams from each country taking part, and the domestic tournament (i.e. Currie Cup) should be the qualifiers to produce the top 4 teams from each country to take part in the Super 12. Simple!

      Alan - 2012-05-15 14:19

      I like that!

      Jason - 2012-05-15 14:35

      How about 16 teams, 8 teams playing Premier 8 Tournament and 8 Teams playing Super 8 tourny! Super 8 on a saturday and premier 8 on a sunday. More rugby to watch but less games for the players! Bottom and top two teams play relegation every year!!!!!!

      Ludolf - 2012-05-15 15:13

      Unfortunitely your sugestion wouldnt work that well, in terms of the top 4 Currie Cup teams play Super 12, I only say this because when the Currie Cup is played all the Springbok players are on tour, thus leaving the teams that have alot of Sprinboks, Bull, Stormers, Sharks, very light on seasoned players. Currently the Lions are at the Bottom of the log, and they won the Currie Cup. So unfortunitely the Currie Cup doesnt reflect Super Rugby quality at all.

      frans.visserdsb - 2012-05-15 17:21

      this would work if we had a international season that made sense. something where from January to March only club rugby was played, April to June only Curry cup, July to September Super rugby, and October to December test rugby. That way the clubs would be able to have some of their stars back for some games...

  • Clive - 2012-05-15 14:12

    In times like this i think first 3 go to semi's with fourth and best placed having to playoff for who goes through. is not fair for brumbries to get there just because we need repensintation from all three if good enough will be there if not get your act together and be counted.

  • patrickjasoncawood - 2012-05-15 14:13

    The whole Super 15 system sucks and needs to change you either play all the teams in your conference twice then have play offs Or play everyone either home or away, followed by play offs

  • Saffa - 2012-05-15 14:19

    SARU and THE NZRU bent over and took it in the @ss from o' Neill - end of. SARU went into the negotiations as the most powerful player in terms of viewership etc, NZ went in as the most powerful in terms of 'PR and marketing value - due to the fact that the AB's are the most marketable team in world rugby' and what did SARU and the NZRU do (instead of simply refusing) - they bent over......and Now we in SA, and to a lesser extent our friends in NZ, sit with sore bums. SARU really have to man up at some stage - they have been tweens for far too long. **Note to self: send SARU negotiators to the bush for initiation - might help them in manning up and hardeningthef#ckup**

      Gary - 2012-05-15 15:04

      I agree......the whole thing should be just a SA and NZ competition. The rest of the world will focus on taking the wonder of rugby to all who love it. SA ar obviously superior so let that be as may

  • Clara - 2012-05-15 14:21

    Belaglik, dit neem die hele kompetisie ding uit rugby - die spanning, heen en weer loop, hand voor die oe hou en deur die vingers loer en alles wat daarmee saamgaan. Ons soek die top 6 spanne, ongeag vir watter konsessie hulle speel, in die finale wedstryde - al is daar dan aan die einde ook geen Suid-Afrikaanse span nie - ons wil die bestes sien!!!!

  • Geoff - 2012-05-15 14:25

    System is nuts and SANZAR is going backwards. Some suggestions - 4 points for a bye is just stupid - scrap it immediately - Why a bonus point for losing within 7? If so, why not a bonus point for winning by more than 7? Better still scrap the "losing" bonus point entirely - I'm not sure it exists in other other major competition worldwide? - The current conference structure to go and tournament to be shortened. Possibly back to S14 with only 4 teams from each of SA, NZ and Aus and 2 from Argentina? - Play in 2 conferences with an extended "post season". If 2 teams don't meet in the regular season one year then they will definitely play each other the next - OR - a 2 tier competition with promotion / relegation?

  • Guy - 2012-05-15 14:26

    I personally don't mind the new system in general - However, the fact that each team misses playing 2 foreign teams each year is a total mess. For example, this year the Stormers don't play Chiefs (currently 2nd on the log) or Brumbies (3rd - OK, granted, they should be 4th), but the Bulls only miss the Hurricanes (8th) and Force (13th) - Not very fair for the Bulls.

      Saffa - 2012-05-15 14:31

      The Bulls get enough hometown refs to even the odds for them......

      Anton - 2012-05-15 14:49

      Siestog SAFFA

      louis.langenhoven - 2012-05-15 14:54

      like you explain it it is absolutely nuts, the bonus for not playing is equally stupid. I don't have a problem for bonus for losing with less than 7 because it ensures teams give everything for the whole game.

      JouMa - 2012-05-15 16:10

      what a crap argument you can't determine pre tournament who will feature and who will miss the bus last season brumbies and highlanders and chiefs were plodding along this season in contention what about stormers last season first weekend bye seriously ridiculous argument bulls played crusaders at home stormers away so end of day it evens out look at weekend most form teams lost reds got screwed last weekend vs crusaders you want to win it beat em all anywhere anytime......

      JouMa - 2012-05-15 16:17

      the competition not fair at all the lions don't get enough byes need to start a petition they have to play almost every weekend

      LaBlue - 2012-05-15 17:20

      ^^ Kan enige iemand uitmaak wat die ou probeer sê?

  • stefan.vanderspuy - 2012-05-15 14:35

    I'll be very surprised to see the ludicrous conference system "live" to see 2013...

  • Dvdwalt - 2012-05-15 14:44

    With 4 teams too many, a long list of injuries and a lot of the better players playing in Europe, the whole thing has turned into a damp squib anyway.

  • Hendrik - 2012-05-15 14:48

    hou dit so volgende jaar is al 4 sa spanne in die top 4 hulle almal gan 10 punte teen die kings kry vir hulle conference wene en 8 punte vir die rus naweeke so die cheetas,stomers,bulle en sharks kan almal op 18 punte begin

  • martin.gee.godfrey - 2012-05-15 14:49

    A true league system doesn't have a semi's and finals. In football for example, you play home and a way, get the points for wins and draws total number of poinst wins or if equal on points, goal difference seals it. If the S15 had a similar setup, the best team would them win. surely if you top the log after your games it should mean that you won the most points and not then have to go out and have one off day against the 4th place side and see your season crumble like a cheap cookie. Not sure if that is a fair way of deciding the winner.

  • Hendrik - 2012-05-15 14:54

    die conference ding gan goed werk vir sa spanne volgende jaar as die kings daar is dit is 10 punte vir die sharks,stomers,bulle en cheetas 8 punte vir die twee rus naweeke so ons spanne kan maar op 18 punte begin .

      Staal - 2012-05-15 18:30

      True - still doesn't make it right or get rid of the problem of having to watch domestic after domestic game.

  • Gary - 2012-05-15 14:58

    Stop all the converations......each team plays each othewr twice and then decide who will play off at the end. That was the way I always played my rugby (at whatever level) and invariably the best team wins......but sometime grand finals may have a surprise outcome. That is the way of life. This conference stuff is simply wrong,,,,,just like the pools in World Cup!!!!!

  • Jody - 2012-05-15 15:20

    Brumbies way.SA and NZ should play in semi" s.

  • Justin - 2012-05-15 15:37

    The only reason I follow the S15 is coz of our own workplace Superbru compo - which has raised the interest in an otherwise boring and repetitive, competition with too many derbies, and too many league level Auzzie teams. It's too drawn out and the conference system is horribly flawed. One stat I'd like to know - How many of the 1st choice players from all teams have been out due to injury during the tournament to date? Too much rugby?

  • johan.fortuin1 - 2012-05-15 15:52

    Al wat sal werk is n top ses[twee spanne van elke land wat in rondomtalie wedstryde speel.twee halfendstryde en n finaal] systeem.Korter toernooi,maar beter kwaliteit rugby.Elke land sal dan ook sy eie relegasie-wedstryde speel.Dit sal verseker dat die beste twee spanne van elke land in die super ses speel.

      LaBlue - 2012-05-15 15:56

      Ummm nee. Dan gaan daar twee spanne van Australia in wees. Hoe help dit?

  • david.strauss.543 - 2012-05-15 16:03

    I agree with the article, and most of the bloggers, S15 league system a bugger-up:- 1. I agree that all teams should play each other once. 2. Derbies are for the Curry Cup. We want to see SA teams playing overseas teams, and it would be great if Argentina could get included. 3. NO points for a bye. - how stupid is that! 4. It is unfair that the team at the top of the log plays 3rd in the log, who could have a train smash on the day. No finals and semis. The team with the most points at the top of the log is the winner, finish and klaar. Play-offs not necessary. The conference sysyem is such a balls-up, I have stopped watching. It is time money and polytics stop running the game!

  • grant.butler.104 - 2012-05-15 16:22

    It is actually a complete and utter farce .

  • Rohann - 2012-05-15 17:24

    What I don't understand is that SA brings the most revenue in for SANZAR but SARU has the least say. We always get pushed around by the Aussie and NZ unions. We shouls start throwing our weight around more. I'm convinced that the Reds would not have won last year if it was the ols system. SA derbies are tougher than any other games and you have 8 a season if you are a SA team. The reds played the Rebels, Brumbies and Force twice and they where weak as hell last year. We should make the big decisions or threaten to go to Europe.

  • Bootman - 2012-05-15 17:37

    Why not have a system where there are five teams from each country. We'll call it a "conference system" for arguments sake. The teams in each conference plays each other twice......home and away. Then you play four teams from the other conferences home or away. The top team in each conference is gauranteed a home play-off spot................oh and another brilliant idea. Lets give each team four points for a bye. Does anybody have SANZAR's number so I can tell them about this.

      Jaco - 2012-05-16 05:00

      Lol. Rob, you forgot the other main issue. The hapless Aussies get to play touch rugby with each other twice, and a team can typically have byes against the saders and bulls. Meanwhile NZ and SA get to go to local battles twice, and get to skip easy five points against a poor Aussie side, the latter ending up in no 3?

  • EJ - 2012-05-15 17:37

    screw the Conference system. Just have a World Rugby Club Championship. If football can accommodate this then rugby should too. The top 2 club/franchises from the SA, NZ, Australia, England, Ireland, Wales, France 1 (Top club) from Scotland. Argentina, Japan and a combined Pacific island club. Thats 18 top clubs. Club championships takes place every 2 years. Top 2 teams from NZ,Aus and SA are determined by the 2 highest placed clubs on the ladder from each country. Im dreaming but I would like to see this in my lifetime.

  • Stephen - 2012-05-15 18:13

    Back to Super 12 i.e. 4 teams each. Everybody plays each other once. End of round robin stage 1 & 2 host the semi's of which 1 plays 3 & 2 plays 4. For the sake of SA players they cannot continue to physically beat the crap out of each other game in & game out. Testosterone rugby is not the only way to play quality rugby!!

  • Gary - 2012-05-15 20:17

    We should have a S15 league and whoever ends up on top is the Super 15 Champion. Full stop. Don't know how us rugger types conspire to make the simple complicated ( perhaps thats the nature of rugby, but thats another story). As exciting, just look at how the Premiership ended on Sunday, to the wire. And if one team runs away with it, well, thats also just fine. It will take a great, deserving team to do that.

  • Roger - 2012-05-15 23:19

    To give the Ozzies a chance we should go over to the Welsh standards (seriously): 1There should be judges awarding points for the team that runs on the field the best. 2. There should be bonus points for the prettiest jerseys. 3. There should be a bonus point for ALMOST scoring a try. 4. There should be a panel of women judges to decide on the 'handsomest' forward, and the' handsomest' back. (the word 'handsomest' is real and comes from my school days when the first team girl supporters had a say-as captain of the thirds we had all the jollers so we had the biggest following) -oh and also the lock with the best ears. 5. There should be a bonus point for the team that looks smarter at the end of the game with a double bonus if it is raining. 6.The ref should award an optional bonus point for the team he liked the most. 7. A boxing referee should be the judge of the best punch of the match. 8. There should be SAB Miller points for the dirtiest play that really made the crowd angry. 9. Every regular paid seat -but excluding boxes-should have a voting button so that the crowd can be given the chance to vote on a range of things from best try to worst referee decision to dirtiest foul to best tackle to biggest blaps to best babe......... Sorry okes I lost it there-where's my naartjies and biltong!

  • rudolph.v.schalkwyk - 2012-05-16 08:34

    as the log stands at the moment it will definitely benefit the team lying 6th on the log. the sharks will play the brumbies and the crusaders the stormers in the first round of playoffs. unfair if you ask me!!

  • Patrick - 2012-05-16 09:17

    Affirmative action, the Aussie way?

  • Naas - 2012-05-16 12:54

    I cannot believe the nonsense people writes. The so called weak ausies? two questions Who won last year? Thus who are the present champions? Who came last last year and who are presently last?

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