Cheetahs the enigma in riddle of South African dominance
Cheetahs Johan Goosen, left and Piet van Zyl celebrate their win over the Hurricanes. AAP Image/SNPA, Ross Setford
Quite a few theories are going around as to how South Africa, not deemed the strongest conference in Super Rugby, has been able to provide three teams for the play-offs.
I have previously expressed my opinion that the Conference system is flawed and lacking credibility, so for the purpose of this discussion I am going to look at some facts.
I have run the results of the past two seasons and found interesting if not surprising statistics. There is one team in the competition that is an enigma, and their results are the catalyst for South Africa’s dominance in the play-offs.
Over the past two years these are the log points gained by each team inside their own conferences.
Stormers 60, Reds 56, Crusaders 52, Bulls 51, Waratahs 49, Sharks 45, Brumbies 41, Highlanders 40, Chiefs 38, Hurricanes 35, Blues 33, Force 26, Rebels 21, Lions 20 and Cheetahs 17.
From these results it is clear how competitive the matches have been within the New Zealand Conference. One could argue the consequences one of two ways.
You could consider that the equality between these teams gives them all a fighting chance to qualify by winning their matches against the South African and Australian franchises, or you could argue that it reduces their chances of having more than two teams qualify.
When considering the non-derby matches, these are the log points gained in the last two season by each team.
Sharks 55, Crusaders 54, Stormers 53, Reds 52, Chiefs 50, Hurricanes 48, Bulls 46, Cheetahs 45, Blues 43, Highlanders 39, Brumbies 34, Waratahs 27, Force 22, Rebels 19 and Lions 18.
From these results it shows which teams have been most successful over the past two seasons against the other two nations’ teams. Remember each team plays eight derby matches and eight international matches per season, and when you compare the non-derby statistics, there are six teams who stand out as gaining more log points outside of their conferences than inside.
Teams with a nett positive log point difference outside their conference were: Cheetahs 28, Hurricanes 13, Chiefs 12, Blues 10, Sharks 10 and Crusaders 2.
Now the enigma in this competition is none other than the Cheetahs, bottom dweller when it comes to the South African derbies. Consider that during the past two years they have not had one single victory over the Sharks, Bulls or Stormers, gaining only 17 log points from their own conference. Yet in 2011 they scalped the Waratahs (qualifiers), Crusaders (qualifiers) and Brumbies, and the in 2012 took the Hurricanes and Waratahs, for a total of 45 log points outside their conference.
They are in fact the perfect foil for the South African conference, taking zero points from the big three, yet competing very well with overseas teams.
That in my view is the single most determining factor in the qualifying results for the South African teams.
Some may say it is because of the Lions being bottom dwellers, yet every conference has had one team at least every year that has been disappointing. The Blues this year had no wins in their conference, the Rebels had no wins against the Reds or Brumbies, and the Cheetahs had no wins against the Sharks, Bulls or Stormers.
It’s what those bottom-dwellers do when they play outside their conference that can really make the difference.