During the process of building an automated log for the new Super Rugby competition, I’ve been forced to dig into it and understand (for the first time) how it will actually work. Properly! Read on if you are still confused.
The first thing that is perhaps a little misleading is all this talk of “conferences”. Even though the competition has, on the surface, been split into three separate conferences, it will still work in much the same way when it comes to the log and determining who goes through to the extended knock-out round. The logs that are displayed on this site, as well as elsewhere, will, mainly for convenience, be split into three individual conferences. That is not to say that there will be three individual logs, or anything. Each team continues to accumulate log points – that is, points gained against teams both in their conference as well as in other conferences – to a single global total and that global total will go a long way towards determining who ultimately goes through.
So why the three individual conference log tables then? Well, the main purpose of those seems to be to easily see which team is the conference winner from each country, because those teams will automatically advance to the play-offs. It’s something that’s been added to ensure continued interest in the play-off series from all three countries – too often in the Super 14 or Super 12 there was a situation where either Australia or South Africa had no teams left come semi-final time. This way, even if the top South African team only finishes seventh or eighth on the final log, they will still proceed to the knock-out rounds.
Now, there have been some changes to the fixture list as well, with more local derbies included at the expense of a few of the so-called “cross conference” games. Looking at this from the perspective of the Sharks, for instance, we now play each of the other South African sides home and away, giving us 8 total games against teams within our own conference (rather than 4 like last year). In the Super 14, we played once against each of the other 9 sides in the competition; this year, a tenth has been added but rather than have to face an extra game against foreign opposition, they have taken one away, meaning we do not play either the Reds or the Highlanders in this year’s competition. We face 8 games against team from the other conferences, of which 4 will be in Durban and 4 overseas, 2 each in Australia and New Zealand. That gives us a total of 16 games in the round-robin phase, 8 at home, 4 at away locations in South Africa and 4 overseas. There has been no separation of the various phases, meaning that fixtures against South African and foreign teams are interspersed throughout the round.
On completion of the round robin, the top 6 sides on the combined log will go through to the knockouts, unless there is not at least one side from each of the three conferences in that top 6. In that case, the 6th-placed side will make way for the highest-placed team from the un-represented conference. In the completely unprecedented situation where the top 5 places are all held by teams from a single conference, then the 5th-placed team from that conference will make way.
The formula to determine the knock-out draw is a little complicated, but let’s try to explain that too. The first-placed side (who is naturally the winner of their own conference) will play a home semi-final. They will not need to play a knock-out match. The total points tallies of the remaining two conference winners are then compared and whichever side has the higher tally will also host a home semi-final and miss out on the knock-out phase. The remaining four sides will then play each other in a typical 3 v 6 and 4 v 5 knockout round, with the third conference winner occupying third place and log points defining who finishes 4th, 5th and 6th. The teams in places 3 (the remaining conference winner) and 4 (the non-conference winner with the highest log points) will enjoy home advantage in the knock-out games. The winners of those knock-out matches will then play away semi-finals against the two conference winners selected above. Obviously, the winners of the semi-finals will play in the final with log points once again deciding home-ground advantage in that match.
So, all-in-all, it’s not that different. The conference system merely complicates the play-off permutations somewhat and gives added hope to those teams who don’t quite make the top 4, but the way that the play-off system works, any team ending lower than 4th stands no chance whatsoever of winning the trophy anyway (since they will need to play three knock-out games away from home in quick succession). The best way to win the Super Rugby trophy is to top the overall log, meaning you only have to play two knock-out games, both of them at home.Tweet