Super Rugby’s credibility snag

    2015-05-12 23:01

    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 system.

    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 hauls.

    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 NZ teams.

    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 Crusaders.

    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 context.

    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 umbrella pools.

    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
    Read More On:  sanzar super 15 cape town rugby

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