As things stand, if the regular Super Rugby season would for some reason come to an abrupt halt today and the play-offs would start this coming weekend, the Brumbies would host the Chiefs.
Yes, a team who have won a mere three of their nine matches will get home ground advantage against a side who boasts a record of eight wins from nine games. Yes, I know the rules, they’ve been in operation ever since Super Rugby expanded to 15 teams and started implementing a conference system.
It clearly states the four conference winners enjoy home ground advantage. This also means the Stormers will enjoy the comfort of their home surrounds in Cape Town in a quarterfinal against the Hurricanes even though their 26 points are seven points less than the Canes’ 33. The only two ‘‘normal’’ match-ups would be the Crusaders against the Sharks in Christchurch and the Lions and Highlanders in Johannesburg.
The Crusaders have 41 points compared to the Sharks’ 28, and the Lions on 37 are nine points clear of the Otago franchise. But even the Sharks would have reason to feel aggrieved, as they have two points more than the Stormers, but have to fly halfway across the globe while the Cape side have the luxury of Newlands in the play-offs.
I suppose the current formula always had loopholes for little technical imbalances like these, yet somehow I don’t think the geniuses that formulated the rules ever imagined that one conference would be as poor as the Australian one has been this season. Really, it sticks out like a sore thumb. Along with the Brumbies are the Waratahs as the only other side to have won three matches, followed by the Reds and Force on two wins each and the Rebels with one solitary victory.
To put this into perspective, the bottom side in the New Zealand conference, the Blues, are four points better off than the Brumbies and the bottom side Africa Conference 2, the Kings, will comfortably slot into second position in the Aussie group and would only need one win to topple the Brumbies. And come to think of it, the unbeaten Crusaders have won nine matches, only two less than all five the Aussie teams put together! Make no mistake, there are struggling franchises in South Africa too.
Besides the fact that the Kings have punched above their weight, they are, along with the Bulls, still only three wins to the good, with the Cheetahs further back on a mere 10 points from their nine outings. But the other half of the local sides have carried the flag for South Africa.
The Lions again look to go deep into the business end after winning eight of their first nine games, while the Sharks and Stormers are both a very credible six victories to the good. The big difference in Australia is – on evidence of the standings anyway – that there isn’t even one team coming close to rising above the rest.
They all seem equally rubbish. And then the Force plan to fight their possible snip from next year’s competition in court. At this stage, it shouldn’t be whether the Force have any right to stay on.
It should be whether Australia should be allowed a team at all.