I’m going to spend some time this week explaining something that is bleedingly obvious:
The SuperXV system of three ‘conferences’ (five teams each from New Zealand, Australia and South Africa) is not ‘fair’.
It assists teams from weak conferences and punishes teams in strong conferences.
In particular the conference system has a big impact in two crucial areas that affect the finals series:
- it affects the marginal decision of which teams play in the finals series. The difference between finishing 5th and 6th, versus 7th or 8th, is very narrow indeed.
- it allows some teams to finish higher up the table, and receive home advantage for the finals. Home advantage means you get extra income, as well as a greater chance of winning.
For those who haven’t been paying close attention (Barry, I’m looking at you), here’s how the conference system works:
- There are three conferences (New Zealand, Australia and South Africa), made up of five teams each.
- Every team plays the other four teams in their home conference home and away. That is eight matches.
- They play four games (two home, two away) against teams in each of the other two conferences. That is another eight matches.
So the home conference makes up exactly half of the matches in each team’s season. If your conference compatriots are rubbish, you get to pick up easy points half the time. In a conference of consistent high quality, every point is hard fought.
It’s easy to see in the final points table that the SethEfriken conference was particularly awful this year, the Aussies a bit better, and all of the kiwi teams (with the possible exception of the Blues) were there or there abouts.
Dig a bit further, and you can see much more clearly the difference in quality between the conferences. Here’s a table that pulls together all the points gained by teams in a conference, according to where those points came from.
So New Zealand conference teams earned far more points than any other conference. The South African conference this year was truly woeful (with the notable exception of the Sharks). The Aussies had two reasonable teams (Waratahs and Brumbies), but the other three were average to awful.
Let’s highlight the intra-conference points:
New Zealand teams playing against New Zealand teams generated 5 more points than Aussies playing Aussies, and 9 more points than Africa against Africa. Remember, they played exactly the same number of intr-conference matches, so those extra points came from the bonus points (scoring four or more tries in a match, or losing by 7 or less). That is, New Zealand matches were closer and had more tries.
“So what?” Barry might ask. Well, in the play-offs finishing higher up the table means you get to play at home, and that is a huge advantage. This week the Highlanders are having to travel to Durban to play the Sharks, and the Chiefs are facing the Brumbies in Canberra.
This goes to the very integrity of the Super Rugby competition, which should be about playing 125 matches to find the very best team from across all three countries.
So this week I’m going to ask a few questions based on analysing the conference system, such as:
- Are the Brumbies the fourth best team in the competition? Do they deserve a home qualifier? and
- The Waratahs: 58 points. Really? I mean, really? and
- Where did the Chiefs season go wrong?
Pay attention Barry!