I think I’ve made myself clear: I reckon the SuperXV conference system gives an unfair advantage to good teams in weak conferences.
Here’s how it plays out in practice when we get to the sharp end of the season. This weekend the top 2 teams (Waratahs and Crusaders) have a weekend off, while 3 plays 6 and 4 plays 5 to decide who they will face in the semi-finals.
Where you finish on the table matters a lot: the higher placed team gets to play at home. Quite apart from not having to travel, you also get the home crowd yelling like billy-o.
A quick check on where the top 3 got their points:
The Waratahs are a good team, no doubt about it. But are they really 7 points better than the Crusaders? They creamed 31 of their 58 points playing against their fellow Aussies, which included the woeful Rebels, the AWOL Reds and the occasional upsetters the Force. Against other conferences they cobbled together a strong 27 points.
The Crusaders had to battle every inch for their 20 points from other kiwis, and did exceptionally well to collect 31 points from Others.
The Sharks are the real question mark, collecting just 25 points in the South African conference which is far and away the weakest in the competition. But by finishing third on the table they get home advantage this weekend against the Highlanders.
The 4th-5th play off is going to be a real ding-dong: a rematch of last year’s Grand Final, only this time in Canberra rather than Hamilton. And the Brumbies get that honour by being just 1 point better than the Chiefs.
The Chiefs’ results look way out of kilter, don’t they? That 23 points against other kiwis was the best result for any New Zealand team. But taking just 5 points from the Aussies really hurt their season. In fact, if you wanted to pinpoint one game that made the difference, it would be way back in Round 6 when they lost 15-18 to the Force in Perth. If they’d just managed to scrape a win, they would have finished above the Brumbies on the table.
Given how crucial the home advantage is for this match, let’s look a bit closer at the quality of the opposition faced by both teams.
The Brumbies had – just – the easier route, playing 8 matches against teams that finished in the top half, and 8 matches against the bottom half. Again, that comes from playing three weak fellow Aussies.
For the sake of argument, I’m going to ‘normalise’ those results, to see what might have happened if the Chiefs had played 8 matches against both the Top 8 and the Bottom 7. (The Brumbies results don’t change, of course, because they really did play 8 and 8.)
Now isn’t that interesting? Assuming equally weighted opposition, the Chiefs are 1.5 points better than the Brumbies.
This is exactly my whole point: the conference system screws the scrum.
Of course, this doesn’t change the fact that the Brumbies will host the Chiefs on Saturday night. The TAB has, rightly I think, installed the Brumbies as the favourites to win. That’s home advantage for you, even if Dave Rennie is talking up his team.
Go get ’em, Dave.