NZ teams disadvantaged by conference system

Chances are, the Lions will again reach the Super Rugby final, thanks largely to a lift by the...
Chances are, the Lions will again reach the Super Rugby final, thanks largely to a lift by the current conference system. Photo: Getty Images
The conference system is doing a disservice to the New Zealand teams in Super Rugby and gives a clear advantage to teams from Australia and South Africa.

If the competition went to a full double round and ditched the conference system then the Chiefs, Crusaders, Highlanders and Hurricanes would have a much better chance of going deep into the playoffs.

As it sits now, the odds are that for a third straight year that the Crusaders and the Lions will meet in the final.

Dunedin firm Iris Data Science modelled a season in which all teams played a double round-robin and there was no conference system.

As it sits at the moment, teams are split into three conferences in which they play each other twice. They then play eight other games against teams from other conferences and so end up not playing two teams.

It is complicated and has led to complaints that it is too confusing and does not lead to the top teams making the final.

The problem is the strongest four teams - Crusaders, Hurricanes, Highlanders, Chiefs - are all in the same conference, and because they play each other twice they get fewer points per game than if they played other teams twice too. The teams in the other conferences get proportionally more points per game.

Then giving the top three seedings to the conference winners pretty much guarantees the two strongest teams will meet in the semifinals and not the final, since they are in the same New Zealand conference.

If the conference system was dumped then the four top performing New Zealand sides, minus the Blues, who have struggled in recent times, would have a much better chance of making the playoffs and getting through to the final.

The Highlanders would benefit greatly from getting rid of conferences.

The side from the South would have a 83% chance of making the quarterfinals, a 40% chance of getting to a semifinal and a 14% chance of reaching the final. It would have a 5% chance of winning the entire competition.

At the moment, its chances of making the quarterfinals sit at 67%, the semifinals at 25% and it has a 9% chance of making the final.

So it has a 60% better chance of making the semifinals and 45% better chance of making the final if the conference system was ditched.

Compare that to a side such as the Brumbies.

At the moment, the Canberra side has a 34% chance of making the semifinals, and 17% chance of making the final. With no conference system, the chance of making the semifinals would drop by more than 50% and the probability of making the final would drop by 70%.

The Waratahs are the same. The side at the moment has a 31% probability of making the semifinals and 14% of making the final.

If it was changed, the Waratahs chances of making the semifinals would drop by more than half and making the final would decrease by 68%.

Under a non-conference system, the chances of the Crusaders playing the Hurricanes in the final stand at 22%. Under the present conference system, the likelihood of that occurring is just over 6%.

The chances of a Highlanders final against the Crusaders sits at 5% if there are no conferences but at the moment there is a 2.7% probability of that happening.

The chance of a Crusaders final against the Lions sits at 14.8% at the moment while that drops to 12.7% if the conference system is abolished.


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