S15 format is flawed

A few numbers from the Chiefs Super Rugby season:

The Chiefs became the third New Zealand Conference team to win Super Rugby, and the sixth franchise overall to lift the trophy since the tournament began in 1996.

Head coach Dave Rennie became the third Super Rugby debutant coach (after Sir Graham Henry in 1996 and Robbie Deans in 2000) to win the tournament, while assistant coach Wayne Smith became the first coach in history to win Super Rugby titles with more than one franchise.

Aaron Cruden finished the season as the highest point’s scorer on 251, the second highest in a season after Morne Steyn recorded 263 for the Bulls in 2010.

The Chiefs also finished with the following newly set season Kiwi records:

• Most wins in a regular season – 12 (Also a NZ Conference record)
• Winning streak – 9 (Round 2 to Round 11)
• Home winning streak – 6 (Round 2 to Round 14)
• Most wins at home in a season – 8
• Most points (444) and tries (47) scored during a regular season

So while I really thought the Sharks had a chance of upsetting the applecart, based on the above, I am of the belief that the best side in the tournament took home the Cup. The Chiefs were the most consistent side, matching steely defence with the ability to attack from anywhere, a solid and accurate kicking game from Kerr-Barlow and Cruden, while also sporting bloody solid first phases.

It was, however, the 13th time that the home team has won the Super Rugby Final and the Chiefs 31 point win was the third biggest victory in a Final after the Bulls win in 2009 (v Chiefs) and the Blues triumph in 1996 (v Sharks).

So did the Sharks really have a chance? Is the system not flawed?

The Sharks bedroom window

While having enough in the tank to get the past the Reds and Stormers on their treacherous run in to the final, they looked dead on their feet after 20 minutes of the final …

Unless it’s a local derby (Bulls v Sharks 2007, Bulls v Stormers 2010 – sort of) or an NZ team in Aus (Reds v Crusaders last year), then it’s basically just a victory parade for the home team …

So what are the options?

There might be some merit to the European approach of a neutral final venue agreed at the start of each season … Twickenham perhaps an option and sides split revenues evenly amongst RFU and the two competing unions after SANZAR has taken it’s cut? The Heineken Cup, Aviva Premiership et al all work like that.

But that has two major flaws – It takes away from earning the right to a final – both for the team and fans, meaning that neither set of fans would get to see the game … And while a South African side would also need to fly, London is pretty much in the same time zone, so the Aus and Kiwi sides would be prejudiced …

I would go back to a 12 team competition with semis and a final in a heartbeat, but clearly bigger is best in the eyes of SANZAR. So given the current constraints, two options worth considering: Allow all 15 sides to play each other again, and then make the league winners the tournament champions, scrapping the quarters, semis and final (unlikely as SANZAR would lose plenty cash on that deal), or …

Have a 2 week break between semis and final. But the tournament is already too long, so I would suggest scrapping that pesky guaranteed playoff spot for all conference winners – that is ridiculous, then also scrapping the quarter finals and playing just semi finals (1 v 4, and 2 v 3 on the log) and having a week’s break before the final …


  1. Most wins in a regular season – 12 <- Stormers had 14? or is that just for new zealand teams ??

    1. Just Kiwi sides Darryl. And with Saders winning most of their tournaments with fewwer sides in the comp, it makes sense … But will make it more obvious that they are Kiwi records

  2. The Sharks came 6th on the log out of 15 teams (which includes Lions, Rebels and Force!). Surely they deserve to travel as much as they did and if that caused them to lose the final, so be it. If you point out an example where the best over the whole tournament loses because of unfair travel I will hear your point. Happy where it is at the moment with emphasis on being the best team on the log to give yourself the best chance of winning tournament while still needing to be good in those pressure playoff games.

    1. Think a week break regardless would be a good idea… let’s some tired bodies heal and will let both teams tear into each other.

      Also what if that extra week break would have meant that an injury ravaged team like Stormers who made it to finals got a player like Schalk Burger or Duane Vermuelen back where they wouldn’t have been able to play if it hadn’t been for that extra time?

      Would make it a more interesting and evenly contested final!!

    2. I see the logic, and tend to agree, but there is no real point in playing the final if one of the sides has to cross the Indian ocean. So then rather make the league champions the winners and spice up the league …

      1. Overseas sides can win across the ocean, we see that in the regular season. Finals of course are a lot more difficult because you playing the best side from overseas. I think the Chiefs could well have taken the Sormers away had they made it through to he final… I would be happy with just a league and no semi’s, but think the masses quite like the idea of knockout rugby and so good for money.

  3. Tank,
    Why not run the S15 like the Heinekin Cup? – 4 pools, 4 teams in each pool, home and away games. Winners and second place play play-offs, etc.
    Sure, we won’t have all teams playing each other but it means a few positive things for SA: we’ll get 6 teams in, including the Spears and so keep the Lions franchise operational. Second, we’ll lessen the already too long S15 season so we can put the focus back on Currie Cup and domestic rugby – ie. our foundations! We could then even make the Super Rugby comp run over the entire season, with currie cup inbetween etc…or, just have 2-3 months Super rugby with this ne format, then a break for the players before inbound international tours, and then shift focus to currie cup…
    You heard it here first.

    1. Think that would work wonders. There would have be a ranking system so not all of the Rebels, Lions, Spears (only cos they would be new kinds on the block) and Force would all land in the same pool or the Crusaders, Chiefs, Sharks and Stormers in another.

      After the pool all teams would advance to the next phase to play for the Super Rugby Trophy, Plate and Shield depending on where they finished in their pools. So the number of games wouldn’t be reduced but the quality might increase and there might be less blow outs.

      Unfortunately I doubt the Aussies would welcome that kind of change. It would mean that they lose the domestic competition they created by the forced increase in Super Rugby and home and away derbies.

    2. Had long discussions about this with a few mates and colleagues (sorry meneer, not a first 🙂 ) … And if we are going to keep the tournament so big, then yes, this is perhaps the only option. What I like about Super Rugby is all teams playing each other, hence my want to go back to a S12 format. Already at least 3 teams making up the numbers … Also cannot be guaranteed that 6th side as Aus and Kiwi will also fight for that spot … And it should go to an Argentinaian or Asian side if logic prevailed

  4. Couldn’t agree more. It was ridiculous that the Sharks had to travel to Australia to play a team at home who had got less points than them in the league play. Just because one country is the odd one out in terms of quality should not give them a right to host a play off game of any sort.

    A week between the semi-final and final would probably be the best. But if they keep the play-off games I don’t know how much it would help a team like the Sharks who would have had to fly to Australia then back to South Africa before jetting back to NZ.

    Another silly question is whether in a play-off game if the team who has had to travel and play away final matches and manages to beat the home team should then take the trophy for top of that conference (something like the Ranfurly Shield). It would mean that the Sharks would have the SA and Aus conference trophies in their trophy cabinet. But those trophies are meaningless anyway…

    1. South AFrica asked for the rule so that a play off could be played in SA as the travel was biased against SA teams. Now in the one year when it works against an SA team, we should not complain. What nobody is telling us is how much money SA is generating for the tournament and how much is coming from Aus and NZ – if the SA rugby supporters are picking up the larger part of the tab, we should have more say in the tournament and not sacrifice the CC so that the Brumbies can play the Reds twice.

  5. Play single round and everybody play each other – Scrape the Conference system and 1 and 2 on the log play out for the trophy.

  6. I think the Super tournament should be expanded to a Super 20 and have a Top 10 team division and a lower 10 team division and then have promotion relegation matches for team 1 in the lower against team 10 in the upper and 2 and 9. This will mean a shorter Super Tournament and we can have our CC as it is better to see the local teams play their best players for the CC as to have a bunch of second stringers playing the Vodacom Cup and the CC. As for the Sharks travelling so much – that is the rule of the competition. The defeat against the Lions and that shoddy game at the start of the season against the Bulls were felt. That is where the fairness laid. If they did not want the travel – they should have won both.

  7. I like the Heinekin Cup idea, but why not have two pools of Eight, get an Argies side in there (Opens up the market to the US time zone), adding the travelling to Argentina doesn’t make it worse. You can then have two pools of eight, play each other only once. Also mix it up every year, keeps it fresh and then you can have quarters, semi’s and finals. It’ll be a shorter format, and not drag on for 9 months.

  8. Hey Tank,
    As some of the above comments attest and many more on other platforms – there seems to be concensus among many that a divisional system with none of this derby BS would be ideal! Granted the Aussies would lose something, but surely it would benefit all if SANZAR actually helped develop a local Aussie league without affecting the international status of a competition like Supe(r) Rugby?
    Similar to some of the above (and taking something from UEFA too) what about this?
    16 teams (we could have them Kings added for the moment) in 2 divisions , top 3 from each play playoffs then semi’s then final. That makes 7 match day weekends only (if my suspect maths is anything to go by!).
    To spice it up, we could run a UEFA like draw before the season to create the divisions. Potentially having a situation where a team could play another multiple times in years or not at all (a nice situation to avoid monotony?! – I quite like the idea of seeing a Stormers(Sharks/Crusaders) outfit meet a Bulls(Brumbies/Reds) outfit after a couple of seasons?!
    The length of the rugby playing year is also considerably shortened, there would be enough time to rest before the incoming tours- so the Aussies do get some benefit!… and there would be enough potential to increase the pool sizes in years to come…

    Based on the 2013 season the rugby calender would look something like this- Super Rugby starts in first week of March 1st/2nd – 4 matchdays until bye (29th/30th), matchdays 5-7 in April then bye. Play-offs and Semis over two weekends (May 4th/11th), bye then final (25th May).
    The rest of the year then looks like this – rest weekend after the final before the incoming tours (8th June) which finish in June too! that means that the Rugby Champs can be moved up a whole month (20th July) – players still get almost a month of rest too. That tournament is concluded in first week of September. CC and NPC still get some player power and the international season doesn’t happen until November again and done by December! This potentially means that players could get three months of straight rest with plenty time in between in some cases!

    Would be interesting to see the sort of feedback this would garner!

    1. I think that if the tournament is to remain big, ie more than 12 teams, then this is the only way forward. And has potential to be even more like the Heineken Cup with several pools of 4 teams, meaning a few Asian and Argentinian teams could join. I do like the structure of your season where each tournament finishes before the next starts – unlike in the UK.

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