Beauden Barrett’s move from Wellington to Auckland was always going to turn the Blues into a more competitive Super Rugby outfit.
It’s been popular on The Roar to talk about the relative weakness of the Australian conference in the Super Rugby competition in 2011. The view is that this is an advantage for the Australian teams when it comes to making the semi finals.
I think it’s difficult to argue that the Australian conference hasn’t been the weakest this year.
You can certainly also argue very strongly that any competition in which all the competing teams don’t play each other the same number of times home and away is distorted.
The unfortunate fact is that it is impractical to have a 28 round Super Rugby competition, so some distortions are inevitable. Arguments about possible compromises go on from there.
What I want to throw out there today is that maybe it hasn’t been as distorted this year as many people think it has, by seeing what the Super Rugby table would look like if we took this year’s results but disregarded the second round of intra-conference games.
I recognise that that doesn’t quite produce a table that mimics previous competitions, as each team isn’t playing two of the other teams, but it’s as close as we can get.
Disregarding the second intra-conference games perhaps favours the teams that got out of the blocks quickly, but it seems to me that that more closely approximates to what happened in previous years, and what would happen if everyone just played everybody else once.
So, doing that, the table becomes:
Reds – now – 58 points, 1st. Deduct 9 from second intra-conference games – go to 49, second, with one out of conference game to play.
Blues – 54, second. Deduct 4, go to 50, 1st, with none to play.
Stormers – 52, 3rd. Deduct 9, go to 43, 5th, with one to play.
Crusaders – 49, 4th. Deduct 5, BUT add 4 for the bye, go to 48, 3rd, none to play.
Sharks – 47, 5th. Deduct none, stay 47, go to 4th, none to play.
Waratahs – 46, 6th. Deduct 9, go to 37, still 6th, three to play.
Bulls – 45, 7th. Deduct 9, go to 37, still 7th, one to play.
Highlanders – 44, 8th. Deduct 8, go to 36, equal 7th, 2 to play.
The table breaks more into three bands, rather than the current two. The top band is the Reds and Blues, with the Blues going up one spot, but the Red’s final out of conference game decides whether they stay there.
In what is now a second band (Crusaders, Stormers, Sharks) the Crusaders improve from 4th to a finishing position of at worst tied 3rd. However, taking into account the bye, this band is pretty much unchanged also.
The big “winners” of this exercise to date are in that second band – the Sharks. By virtue of having played all of their out of conference games already, they’ve put a gap between themselves and the final group (Waratahs, Bulls, Highlanders), rather than forming part of that group, and could only be caught by the Waratahs scoring two bonus point wins out of conference.
The Stormers on the other hand are relatively the big “losers” – going from 3rd to 5th and at some risk of being run down even for that spot.
In the final band, the Waratahs and Highlanders slightly improve their relative positions, given their games in hand, but as in the real world, a lot gets decided by the Bulls/Waratahs game.
Again though, as in the real world, it remains the case that if the Waratahs keep winning, they’re through, and that the Highlanders need other results to go their way.
So what to make of all this? For mine, remembering the season isn’t over yet, and this analysis may change a slightly over the last 3 rounds, you can say:
• Since each of the New Zealand teams is fractionally better off under this analysis, that suggests it’s hard qualifying from the New Zealand conference this year
• The relative positions of the Australian teams don’t change much at all – and nothing like as much as those arguing that those teams get a tremendous leg-up from the current system would have you think they would
• Overall, the changes in position and the gaps between teams (again, bearing in mind games to play) are not greatly different between this analysis and the situation as it is actually is – suggesting the good teams will get through, regardless of what conference they’re in.