The weirdest schedule in all of professional sports naturally gets a weird ending this week. Maybe it’s just time to admit that the system is too weird for everyone, writes Scotty Stevenson.
The Chiefs and the Hurricanes both will be in action in the final round of Super Rugby’s regular season on Saturday with no chance whatsoever of hosting a quarterfinal match. We all know that is just the way the conference system works, and most people have simply got on with life and accepted that fact. But here’s the thing: even in the battle for fifth and sixth spot in this convoluted structure, there is a strange discrepancy in how the tie-breakers are shaped.
There is every chance the Chiefs and Hurricanes could end up on the same number of competition points this weekend. No problem, I hear you say, there will be a fair and reflective tie-breaker in place to make sure we an separate them. Well, kind of. The first tie-breaker is on games won during the season, which wouldn’t usually be much of an issue except in this case when both would finish up on the same number of wins.
We all know that a who-beat-who tie-breaker would be the simplest and most effective way to split the teams. In the world of Super Rugby that is not the case. We will be forced to use points differential as a way to to decide who gets fifth (and travels to Canberra) and who gets sixth (and travels to Cape Town). Who on God’s green earth thought points differential was a fair measure when the stakes are this high?
Don’t get me wrong, teams should be rewarded for going out there and scoring points, and obviously, because every team does not play every other team, the ‘who-beat-who’ tie-breaker doesn’t apply to all teams. Well, it certainly applied to two teams in the same conference, doesn’t it. And it sure as hell should apply when one team – in this case the Chiefs – have beaten the other not once, but twice this season.
It is a remarkable oversight to make this call on points differential when that can hardly reflect the comparative competitiveness of the two teams in question. Who’s to say which of those teams racked up more points against other, irrelevant sides because of mitigating factors? Which team had its playmakers out at the time, or faced a team down on numbers through injury. It’s inarguably the worst tie-breaker in history and while I have nothing but respect for the Hurricanes posting the best points-per-game average (40.4) this season, I do feel for the Chiefs who twice took them down yet could find themselves ranked behind them.
That problem is only exacerbated by the fact that while the Chiefs and Hurricanes, Crusaders and Lions, and Highlanders and Sharks (AKA every single other team in the playoffs) must go out and win this week to ensure they have the best possible outcome in the finals, the Brumbies – who have won just six games this season and have home advantage for the quarterfinals sewn up – get to run out a team that features twelve changes from the one that lost last week to the Reds. In other words, they get to rest as many of their big guns as they want as both of their respective quarterfinal opponents have to throw everything at the final week.
That is a system that is broken, notwithstanding the fact the Chiefs have thanked the Brumbies for what is tantamount to throwing the game (think Lions last year against the Jaguares – we all know how that turned out) and rested three of their biggest stars in Anton Lienert-Brown, Sam Cane and Brodie Retallick.
Ah well, it is what it is, and what it is, thankfully next year will no longer be. One can only hope that the three key matches of the weekend – namely the Hurricanes vs Crusaders, Highlanders vs Reds, and Sharks vs Lions – live up to their billing. The Crusaders are desperate for the top spot and to maintain their unbeaten run, the Lions want that top billing too, knowing that their chances of winning the competition if they have to come to New Zealand are, based on history, precisely zero, and the Highlanders would much rather be facing the Crusaders in Christchurch than the Lions in Johannesburg, at least according to head coach Tony Brown.
I have no idea what the Sharks want. I have no idea what they are doing here, other than admiring their young fly half Curwin Bosch.
All we can do is sit back and watch the carnage unfold, and while we’re doing that we’ll spare a thought for at least four team managers, who won’t be sleeping a wink, and will have at least thirty business class seats booked on two different airlines to two different countries.
Makes perfect sense, doesn’t it?
This story originally ran on RugbyPass.com – the premier destination for rugby fans in Asia, streaming International Test Matches including The Rugby Championship, Super Rugby and more to your device wherever you are in Asia