Why the Super Rugby conference system must change

Rob Seltzer Roar Guru

By Rob Seltzer, Rob Seltzer is a Roar Guru

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    The start of the Super Rugby season is drawing ever closer. Teams are well into their pre-season preparations as they look to their first games of the new campaign.

    2016 saw the competition split into Conferences. The South African teams had two conferences, whereas the Australian and New Zealand teams were in a conference of their own.

    This had an impact on the teams that each franchise played and therefore some clubs had a more difficult road to make the finals than others. For example, The Stormers did not face a New Zealand team until they played the Chiefs at Newlands.

    Despite having home advantage the Waikato team beat them 60-21, a result that lead to Stormers coach Robbie Fleck to criticise the format. He claimed that the Stormers had not faced an opponent that played with the intensity and skill the Chiefs played with that day and the Stormers simply couldn’t live with them.

    Compare this to the Waratahs, who did not make the finals. They played all five New Zealand teams losing four of those games but they did beat a full strength Chiefs team at home 45-25 and also went to Cape Town and beat the Stomers 32-30. I am not saying that because of these two results, the Waratahs are in any way more deserving of a spot, but it does bring the conference system into question.

    With the current format, the Stormers and Brumbies both had home quarter finals against the Chiefs and Highlanders respectively (which they both lost). This happened despite the Stormers having a points total of 51 and the Brumbies 43 compared to 52 points for the Highlanders and 51 to the Chiefs.

    Even the Crusaders in seventh which meant they had to travel to the red hot Lions in Johannesburg had more points than the Brumbies. As the Brumbies and Stormers topped their respective conferences they automatically gained the home field advantage in the finals. The Brumbies played four New Zealand teams losing all four of those matches and having a points total that would have them in joint seventh place if the league was just done on points. Is this a fair system?

    The history of Super Rugby is, unsurprisingly, dominated by New Zealand teams. The first five tournaments were shared between the Auckland Blues (2) and Canterbury Crusaders (3) before the Brumbies beat the Sharks to take the title out of New Zealand for the first time. It wasn’t until 2007 that the Super Rugby title went to South Africa, when a superb Bulls outfit with Fourie Du Preez, Victor Matfield, Morne Steyn and Bryan Habana beat the Sharks in dramatic fashion with a last-minute try.

    From 2007-2010 the Bulls won three titles with the Crusaders winning a title in 2008.

    The format of the competition was each team would play each other and they were all in the same league. The top eight would make the finals and the Champion would be crowned from them.

    In 2011 the Reds were victorious with 15 teams involved and the same format being adhered to before a Chiefs double 2012/13, the Waratahs in 2014, Highlanders 2015 and Hurricanes 2016 took the title.

    Up until this season there was one league where the top eight would battle it out, so more often than not, the best eight teams throughout the season would be playing finals rugby.

    The Waratahs backs celebrate (Photo: Ashleigh Knight)

    The same cannot be said of 2016. The Blues for example ended up on 39 points. They got bonus point wins over the two top teams from the Australian conference the Brumbies and Waratahs and most of their defeats came against fellow New Zealand teams. They didn’t play the Sunwolves at all but did play the Hurricanes and the Crusaders twice.

    I know the argument is, you have to beat the best at some point to win, but a team that plays the Sunwolves twice and the Kings twice have an easier task than a team that plays the Crusaders and Hurricanes twice.

    I would love to see the conference system to be thrown out of the window. It is a much fairer system to have one league, where all teams play each other once and alternate the home-and-away games each season.

    That way no teams can have an โ€œeasierโ€ fixture list to make the finals. No fans miss out on seeing teams as they will get a look at them every other season. If this isn’t feasible, although I don’t see why not, then how about we just take half the teams from each conference and make a league out of them and then the other half make the other league. Then the top four from each league playoff and you get your winners from there.

    One of the counter arguments to that is that potentially all five teams from one country will make it through with none from another, thus fans from that country will lose interest in the finals. Surely this will drive the players/coaches to ensure they come up with ways to beat the better teams.

    At the moment some teams have enough, so called easier games, to target to give them a better chance of making the finals. This needs to be eradicated to help improve the standard of all teams and ensure it is the fairest way for teams to make the finals. No one wants to see a quarter final result that reads 21-60 in favour of the away team. People want finals games to be close affairs that can go either way.

    It won’t happen in the near future if ever, but the conference system needs to go.

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    The Crowd Says (97)

    • February 18th 2017 @ 3:41am
      Hello Everybody. said | February 18th 2017 @ 3:41am | ! Report

      It is not fair having 1 league with home and away.
      NZ and Aus have a huge advantage. They travel far less.

      The conference system is as fair as it gets until we invent a wormholes in space.

      • February 18th 2017 @ 5:49pm
        Kevin Malone said | February 18th 2017 @ 5:49pm | ! Report

        business class travel must be tough – those big beds arent comfy

        • February 18th 2017 @ 6:25pm
          Hello Everybody. said | February 18th 2017 @ 6:25pm | ! Report

          Yeah, travel away from home family and changing time zones all the time doesnt effect teams. Weve got the conference system for no reason.

          So let me explain this.
          The conference system is there for a reason.
          If the vast amount of comments on this page even bothered to acknowledge the reasons and difficulties facing Super Rugby I would be happy to engage in conversation but all I can see over and over is “The conference system is bad”.

          Hey everybody, it involves 5 countries from all over the planet. Its not 1 country where you can fairly have home and away where everyone plays everyone.
          I guess thats why we dont…discuss.

          • February 19th 2017 @ 11:57am
            Unanimous said | February 19th 2017 @ 11:57am | ! Report

            A league that spans the planet isn’t practical. Why keep trying?

            By the way, conferences don’t balance travel either. The best way to make travel fairer when playing less than a full round robin is by directly scheduling the games to do that. Conferences are a poor way to reduce travel, and a blatant method of guaranteeing finals to particular areas.

      • February 18th 2017 @ 10:58pm
        Sheikh said | February 18th 2017 @ 10:58pm | ! Report

        The problem with your analysis is that the teams which travel the farthest are the Sunwolves, the Force and the Jaguars, not the South African teams.

        • February 18th 2017 @ 11:59pm
          Hello Everybody. said | February 18th 2017 @ 11:59pm | ! Report

          I think youve missed the point.

          • February 19th 2017 @ 9:07am
            Celtic334 said | February 19th 2017 @ 9:07am | ! Report

            Time difference does play a big difference in players performance etc. but it’s not as simple as it seems. For instance the time difference of an aus team playing in sa is -9 hours. So in other words if an aus team plays at 630pm sa time it’s akin to the aus players been asked to play at 330am, prob the least peak performance time of ones body. Now for an sa player playing at 630pm aus time it’s like their bodies been asked to perform at 930am sa time. Now once again not an ideal time to run around but considerably better than asking players to perform at essentially 330am. But then there is the fact sa teams were asked to do this for an extra week in the old format, kinda evens out the circumstances. There is no perfect system, but the current one is considerably worse than any previous methods used.

            If you want to talk about unfair advantage because a country is isolated from the other countries in the same competition that’s fine. But just remember you have just as many advantages, cough….cough altitude, etc that could easily get rebutted back at you.

          • February 19th 2017 @ 12:18pm
            Sheikh said | February 19th 2017 @ 12:18pm | ! Report

            You mean the point you made that the Australian and NZ conferences travel less. The Force were regularly the farthest travellers until the Sunwolves were introduced. The Jaguars would travel a lot, but their schedule has been tweeked to include all their travel in two blocks. If schedules can be tweeked like this, why has it never been done for an Australian team that travels farther than any other Super15 side?

      • February 19th 2017 @ 4:48pm
        Rebellion said | February 19th 2017 @ 4:48pm | ! Report

        Easy answer = Super 14

        Canterbury Crusaders
        Auckland Blues
        Waikato Chiefs
        Wellington Hurricanes
        Otago Highlanders
        Queensland Reds
        New South Wales Waratahs
        ACT Brumbies
        Melbourne Rebels
        Coastal Sharks
        Western Stormers
        Northern Bulls
        Lions/Cheetahs

        If that is not good enough then cut the Rebels and another SAF team

        • Roar Rookie

          February 20th 2017 @ 8:23pm
          ukkiwi said | February 20th 2017 @ 8:23pm | ! Report

          I like it., drop to 14. Japan has a good domestic competition filled with different nationalities. I don’t think the Sunwolves inclusion is a massive plus for the growth of rugby in Japan. The Japanese league offers more to the Japanese rugby public and players than watching the Sunwolves get thrashed every week.

          With regard to the Jaguares, looking at the Argentine world cup/international record, it may be better for Argentine players to be spread across Europe and come together for tests like the Rugby Championship and end of year tours. It has been said on this site (can’t remember by who) the Argies look like they could do with a break from each other.

      • February 19th 2017 @ 5:52pm
        Jacko said | February 19th 2017 @ 5:52pm | ! Report

        Hello, if every body played everybody else the travel would even out over two seasons. Was it fair for all those NZ teams to have to travel to SA to play finals when they finished above some of those teams? NO IT WASNT and it ended the season for at least 2 teams which finished with more wins but no home advantage for finals….You are the one missing the point

        • February 19th 2017 @ 6:06pm
          Sheikh said | February 19th 2017 @ 6:06pm | ! Report

          While agreeing with you that teams which finish with more points have won the right to play at home in the finals and not have to travel to teams who finished with fewer points, you cannot really believe that travel evens itself out over two seasons.

          You need only look at the AFL or A-League to see that the Eagles and Dockers travel farther than the Magpies, or that the Glory and Phoenix travel farther than Sydney FC.

    • Roar Guru

      February 18th 2017 @ 7:44am
      biltongbek said | February 18th 2017 @ 7:44am | ! Report

      The credibility of the format has been questioned from thebeginning, yet SANZAR has paid no heed.

      Boycot the competition if you want any changes. Only a financial loss will change SANZAR’s direction.

      • February 18th 2017 @ 3:26pm
        Pinetree said | February 18th 2017 @ 3:26pm | ! Report

        Unfortunately you are correct biltongbek. But I can’t stop watching the rugby! Where can I get help so we can end this horrible system?

      • February 18th 2017 @ 7:00pm
        Hello Everybody. said | February 18th 2017 @ 7:00pm | ! Report

        Yes the credibility of the format has been questioned from the start…the start of Super Rugby though, not since the start of the conference system.

        I hardly noticed the conference system in 2016 and Id rather watch more games at a reasonable time than watching half the games at ridiculous hours of the morning.

        In a perfect world Id drop SA, Jap and Arg and have a 9 team ANZAC comp accross 17 weeks with no finals series, just a league.

        • Roar Guru

          February 18th 2017 @ 7:59pm
          biltongbek said | February 18th 2017 @ 7:59pm | ! Report

          Credibility was never an issue when everyone played everyone else.

          The conference systems opened up the debate of whether the best teams made the play offs.

          If you are going to have a conference system then at least have a closed conference when you qualify from that conference the debate changes.

          You either play all the teams everyone else plays which is the preferred route as there are nou question who’s the best teams on the log, or you have a closed conference where there is no doubt who are the best qualifiers from each conference, the only debate that remains then is which are the weaker conferences.

          The simplest way to negate the rankings then of these qualifiers are with drawing the qualifying teams from a hat.

          • February 18th 2017 @ 9:47pm
            Bakkies said | February 18th 2017 @ 9:47pm | ! Report

            In the early days the performances of certain teams from SA weren’t credible

            • Roar Guru

              February 18th 2017 @ 11:43pm
              biltongbek said | February 18th 2017 @ 11:43pm | ! Report

              Performing poorly has very little to do with credibility.

              In fact languishing at the bottom of the log proved the credibility of the tournament then.

              • February 19th 2017 @ 3:11am
                Bakkies said | February 19th 2017 @ 3:11am | ! Report

                Their performances weren’t credible and they were points for jam away from home

              • Roar Guru

                February 19th 2017 @ 7:57am
                biltongbek said | February 19th 2017 @ 7:57am | ! Report

                Oh please.

    • February 18th 2017 @ 8:29am
      Stu. B. said | February 18th 2017 @ 8:29am | ! Report

      And the present format was formed by our rugby leaders (god help rugby)protectionism at it’s very worst.Try explaining the super format to a sports person only casually interested in rugby, embarrassing! and not winning many new friends.

      • February 18th 2017 @ 10:04am
        Birdy said | February 18th 2017 @ 10:04am | ! Report

        Stu,
        I wasn’t going to bother commenting until i saw your post.
        As only a fringe fan i struggled with the bonus point system allowing a team with less wins to make the finals.
        Then last year they added more games with more teams in more unfavourable time zones and on top of that they added conferences.
        No thanks . Ive gone back to just watching the Wallabies.
        With the enivitable expansion of the NRL the conference system allways pops up. No way i hope we learn from RU’s huge mistake.
        The only thing that would get my interest back in club rugby would be a home and away comp between 12 or 14 teams based only in Aust, NZ and possibly PI team. It will never happen as Australia didnt even know how to capitalise after 2003.

        • February 18th 2017 @ 2:04pm
          Bakkies said | February 18th 2017 @ 2:04pm | ! Report

          ‘As only a fringe fan i struggled with the bonus point system allowing a team with less wins to make the finals.’

          Same thing happened in the Not the Heineken Cup Sponsored by Heineken. Connacht got stitched up this season. Finished on three wins, Toulouse on two. Both teams level on points however Toulouse qualified due to bs tournament rules.

          • February 18th 2017 @ 2:36pm
            Birdy said | February 18th 2017 @ 2:36pm | ! Report

            The idea of any competition is to win.Anything else is a farce.
            Next they will just give out participation certificates to all teams.
            If they want to have any type of bonus point system ie to encourage more try scoring .
            Then the bonus points should only be used as a tie break for finals qualification.
            The NRL has had a for and against system for 108 years, it never gets questioned because its simple and it works.

          • Roar Guru

            February 19th 2017 @ 4:51am
            taylorman said | February 19th 2017 @ 4:51am | ! Report

            How does more wins on level points not put one side ahead. Number of wins comes first when table points are even.

            • February 19th 2017 @ 2:53pm
              Garth said | February 19th 2017 @ 2:53pm | ! Report

              Some tournaments have a rule that says the head-to-head results matter when teams are tied on points. Team A may have won one more game but lost to Team B in pool play.

              • February 19th 2017 @ 7:09pm
                Rob Seltzer said | February 19th 2017 @ 7:09pm | ! Report

                And that is a fine way of doing it but that doesn’t happen in SR with these conferences and the chances that 2 teams on equal points would have played each other is slim

              • Roar Guru

                February 21st 2017 @ 6:15am
                taylorman said | February 21st 2017 @ 6:15am | ! Report

                Well thats dumb.
                And can only be interpreted as dumb.
                No side with more wins should be higher than a side with less when table points are even.
                That is not the fault of bonus points that is the fault of dumb organisers.
                In fact its so dumb I doubt its existence.
                Unless the two sides are in different conferences in which case its irrelevant.

            • February 19th 2017 @ 7:58pm
              Bakkies said | February 19th 2017 @ 7:58pm | ! Report

              Toulouse went through on match points head to head against Connacht. A system only the new crowd running the competition could come up with.

    • February 18th 2017 @ 9:01am
      Steve said | February 18th 2017 @ 9:01am | ! Report

      I guess growing up with American sports this format doesn’t bother me at all.

      Comment from The Roar’s iPhone app.

    • February 18th 2017 @ 10:04am
      SaKiwiRoo said | February 18th 2017 @ 10:04am | ! Report

      Notwithstanding all of the above arguments , many of which are valid, the two best teams made the finals last year. The Lions were never going to win away in the final but they were the architects of their own undoing by not playing a full strength team in Argentina and dropping points that would have ensured a home final.
      Love the each game for what it is, an attempt to play enterprising rugby and entertain. Sport is now about entertainment and not about grinding out wins.

      • February 18th 2017 @ 10:10am
        bert said | February 18th 2017 @ 10:10am | ! Report

        Try telling that to the NH sides. I just watched Glos v Saracens, and the 2 number 9s ( Willi Heinz and Richard Wigglesworth) kicked the casing off the ball all night. Glad I didn’t pay to watch it

    • February 18th 2017 @ 10:56am
      Zero Gain said | February 18th 2017 @ 10:56am | ! Report

      I, for one, have lost interest.
      Maybe QC, the recent accused offender and the bald hooker can reignite the flame for me, but the competition structure is just one big ugly, contrived and convoluted mess.
      We should break away and play an NRU with all Australian teams, season long, but not too long, say 12 teams, two rounds home and away.

      • February 18th 2017 @ 11:03am
        Zero Gain said | February 18th 2017 @ 11:03am | ! Report

        And make Sheek the CEO of the NRU and give him absolute power to implement his preferred structure.

        • February 18th 2017 @ 11:05am
          Zero Gain said | February 18th 2017 @ 11:05am | ! Report

          And ban Kiwi teams from ever entering. Let them stand on their own two feet, for once.๐Ÿ˜€

          • February 18th 2017 @ 11:13am
            OtakiCraig said | February 18th 2017 @ 11:13am | ! Report

            Hahaha love it ZG, yes and no more hiding for oz teams, only when reality hits on the international scene

            • February 18th 2017 @ 12:19pm
              Jacko said | February 18th 2017 @ 12:19pm | ! Report

              Yes Zero and dont play internationals, just have NSW v QLD. And reduce teams down to 13 eh. Then say you are world champions without playing anybody else and all will be happy

              • February 18th 2017 @ 4:47pm
                Zero Gain said | February 18th 2017 @ 4:47pm | ! Report

                No, that would be silly. I am talking about a strong domestically focused competition.

              • February 19th 2017 @ 5:57pm
                Jacko said | February 19th 2017 @ 5:57pm | ! Report

                Domestic comp means domestic money…Aus rugby will go broke in season 1 without the millions from Super and international rugby…Maybe thats what you want.

          • February 18th 2017 @ 3:48pm
            Juliet Allen said | February 18th 2017 @ 3:48pm | ! Report

            The Australian rugby union got into trouble financially so New Zealand dusted of the bledisloe cup and played 3 games against Australia and gave all the gate take to Australia.
            They’ve designed this stupid super rugby format because they didn’t want just nz teams in the finals.

            • February 19th 2017 @ 5:59pm
              Jacko said | February 19th 2017 @ 5:59pm | ! Report

              Also Aus demanded 5 teams because NZ was getting 5 teams and they didnt want to miss out. Now that bites them in the A@rs as they dont have the depth or the money to prop up the underperforming sides

              • February 19th 2017 @ 8:02pm
                Zero Gain said | February 19th 2017 @ 8:02pm | ! Report

                Nah, we don’t need you and the sport will grow more with a locally focused competition. The current format is a huge failure for Australian rugby. Hasn’t been any good since 2011, the last one that really counted.

      • Roar Guru

        February 18th 2017 @ 12:35pm
        taylorman said | February 18th 2017 @ 12:35pm | ! Report

        Yes must be bad if you’re pinning your hopes on Quade re-igniting the flame…:-(

        • February 18th 2017 @ 4:47pm
          Zero Gain said | February 18th 2017 @ 4:47pm | ! Report

          No, exciting actually. Watch the crowds come back to Suncorp.

          • Roar Guru

            February 19th 2017 @ 4:58am
            taylorman said | February 19th 2017 @ 4:58am | ! Report

            Still requires an assumption that he’s going to play well. After all these years he’s still unable to nail the test position, even when the one that’s there probably has just as many detractors.

            • February 19th 2017 @ 8:00pm
              Zero Gain said | February 19th 2017 @ 8:00pm | ! Report

              The non-selection is the coaches fault, not Quade’s. Watch the crowd number for the first home game. I might even shout you to the game if you want to come and live the dream.

              • Roar Guru

                February 21st 2017 @ 6:09am
                taylorman said | February 21st 2017 @ 6:09am | ! Report

                Oh yes, another coaches fault like Phipps, Mumm etc. so many of those.
                Yet we all still want Cheika. Weird logic going on over there.
                For Quades sake I hope he does well, though I just dont see that particular leopard changing his spots.
                Like Beale, who can also play awfully, a lot of hope seems to get plnned on some very eratic players.
                They remember what they can do and so easily forget how bad they can be.
                But good luck, look forward to it๐Ÿ˜€

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