It’s disappointing that Super Rugby is about to lose three teams and revert to the 2013-15 format, because there’s a fair way to play an 18-team competition.
I have written previously about the unfair playing field created by the current Super Rugby draw and you just have to look at the Stormers’ 2017 schedule for evidence.
The 2015 draw, while somewhat more balanced in quality of opposition, still had the Stormers getting a home final when they shouldn’t have been there at all, while the Highlanders had to play a qualifying final when they should have had the bye and a home semi-final, and the Crusaders missed out completely.
This is my attempt to make a fair Super Rugby draw with 18 teams, while still balancing travel, derbies and geography.
We can think of the teams in three units: New Zealand, Australia and South Africa. The Sunwolves would be put in the Australian unit and the Jaguares in the New Zealand unit.
We will have two conferences of nine teams, Group A and Group B. In each group would be three New Zealand teams, three Australian teams and three South Africa teams. Which teams go in what group would be decided from seedings in the previous year.
Each team in the group play every other team, for eight games. In addition, each team would play three cross-group games against the other teams in their unit, maintaining derbies and minimising travel.
We take the top three teams from Group A and Group B and put them in Group C. Fourth to sixth teams from the original groups go to Group D, and the teams placed seventh to ninth go in Group E, for a total of three groups of six.
This could be an example of Group C:
A1 Highlanders 9
B1 Jaguares 8
A2 Stormers 4
B2 Crusaders 4
A3 Chiefs 1
B3 Reds 0
The teams would carry over their results from their group matches, so in this example the Highlanders would carry over their results against the Stormers and the Chiefs. Then they would play a match against the other three teams in the new group. The same system would be used for Group D and E.
Each team should have at least one home game, with the extra home games being given to the teams that did better in the first round.
Group C are playing for home advantage in the final series, Group D are playing for the last two quarter-final spots, while Group E are in a plate competition. This allows for more games against evenly matched teams.
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This part is simple as all the teams should be fairly seeded into quarter-finals: (1) C1 vs (8) D2, (2) C2 vs (7) D1, (3) C3 vs (6) C6, (4) C4 vs (5) C5.
Then highest seed vs lowest seed left in the first semi, other in the second semi, and the final with whoever is seeded highest at home.
This is my dream 18-team Super Rugby format. Although it has some obvious disadvantages, it has to be better than what we have now.