Coming out of last weekend, the Sharks were on top, the Bulls and Lions eighth and ninth and the Cheetahs and Stormers propping up the bottom.
The rule-of-thumb formula for making the play-offs is no secret. Everyone knows that if you win your eight home games – and four of those will be extremely tough local derby matches – and come out top in two of your games on tour, those 10 victories will inevitably be enough to get you through to the knockout stages.
Sounds simple enough, but it’s far from being that. There are just too many variables which have to be considered. You can’t just count on victories on your home ground as a given.
But one thing has been shown to be fact over a history which dates back to 1996. It doesn’t really matter when you tour or play your home games first or last in what is a long, tough campaign, though it is worth restating that those home games are a vital element in success for any franchise.
It is also worth considering that the Bulls, who many have already written off, still have four home games to come.
But getting a good start in Super Rugby does really give any side an energy boost, pumping up morale and in many ways easing the pressure so that there’s not a noose around the necks of the players and they can express themselves on tour and concentrate on winning without the ever-present thought in the back of their minds that they can’t afford another defeat.
Getting out of the blocks also has the effect of giving you an advantage if there is a June break for internationals as was the case last season when the British and Irish Lions toured Australia.
It is also ironic that in split seasons like that, the better you play, the more likely you are to lose a greater number of players to the national side.
And risk them coming back tired, injured or perhaps even worse, demotivated by landing up on the wrong side of the scoreboard.
I must make the point though that there is absolutely no correlation between where the franchises finish and the strength of the national team.
Just because there are Aussie or South African sides clustered at the foot of the combined conference, doesn’t mean the Wallabies or the Boks are going to turn out a weak Test team.
But in the normal scheme of things, every coach at every franchise has to worry about this phase of the competition, where fatigue, injuries and a drop in individual form can make a huge difference.
It’s a time of struggle. The run-in to the play-offs is a critical part of succeeding or failing. And no formula, no matter how it has been shown to be valid over the years, is going to alter that.
v Jake White is the World Cup-winning Springbok coach of 2007 and current Sharks director of rugby.