A gripping final wrapped up what has been an intriguing Super Rugby season for so many reasons.
I kicked off this unofficial rankings system in late 2013, and it’s time for the 10 Nations International Rugby Championship to ramp up again.
With the initial phase involving only the Northern Hemisphere teams closely mirroring the Six Nations in its entirety, the world’s focus has been on the more established tournament.
We now move into the second phase, and June international window offers a range of match-ups for which the 10 Nations is the main prize on offer.
But first a confession – the scuttlebutt and rumours are true. The 2013 champions Iced Vo-Vos and runners-up Milk Arrowroots were never sent to the All Blacks and Springboks.
They were actually purchased and ready to go, but tournament organisers found themselves caught up in the busy Christmas period following the conclusion of last year’s tournament. After a significant time was lost to procrastination, it was decided to just eat the prize packs in house.
I can only apologise to the New Zealand Rugby Union and SARU on behalf of everyone involved in the tournament.
On to the more pleasant subject of the 2014 tournament. As usual, the teams contesting the tournament are the top 10 Nations in world rugby as of the first IRB ranking update of the year in January.
The teams gaining entry to this years tournament are therefore as follows:
The line-up closely resembles that of the 2013 tournament, with the sole change being the Italians dropping out to be replaced by Scotland.
After the completion of the initial phase of the tournament, Six Nations champions Ireland are logically on top of the table with 24 points. England and Wales are equal second behind them on 20 points, with the Welsh benefiting from their additional simulated match this year. Their big 48-point win leaves them in good stead to get maximum benefit from this match.
This may hinder them in the latter stages of the tournament however with England having a benefit of an extra real-world match still to play allowing them to potential finish over the top. Remember folks, games in hand matter.
All will be looking over their shoulders at the sleeping giants of the Southern Hemisphere, who will commence their 2014 campaigns in the June internationals.
The tournament hits the ground running with a bumper “Super Saturday” of action on June 14 with England v New Zealand, France v Australia, Ireland v Argentina and South Africa v Wales. These games will go a long way towards deciding the Northern Hemisphere teams’ chances of taking some biscuits this year, with last year’s cut-off for the top two being only one loss through the year.
A final piece of housekeeping involves a slight adjustment to the way the simulated matches are awarded.
Firstly, the simulated matches will now be awarded based on a team’s average adjusted points differential, as the total adjusted points differential used last year gave too much advantage to teams playing more real-world matches.
The second is that a team may now only win and draw a combined maximum number of simulated matches equal to the number of real-world matches they have played.
This has been prompted by the fact that Samoa only plays one real world match in this year’s tournament, which would potentially allow them to rack up a big score and win eight simulated matches as a result. That clearly wouldn’t be a fair or sensible outcome.
This does make it very difficult for Samoa to do well this year, but they can’t expect to really make their mark on the tournament with so few real-world matches scheduled.
So let the fun begin. Can anyone loosen New Zealand’s grip on the goodies this year? Only time will tell, but anything can happen in tournament rugby.