By Wynne Gray
Six rounds into the Super whizz bang-bang for your buck series and the best teams are pushing out performances to balance the mediocre.
No one would dispute the Chiefs, Highlanders, Crusaders and Hurricanes are bringing games to sit comfortably in the top rung of the series. The quality of their rugby – skill level, game plans, fitness, rugby intelligence, coaching flexibility – is a notch up from most.
Their performances rival most of the work the Brumbies and Rebels are producing at the top of the Australian conference and the Stormers and Sharks have shown to lead their South African conferences.
However the conference series rather than a round-robin tournament means New Zealand teams will cannibalise each other. When finals time rocks around in late July, it will need some miracle for four NZ sides to qualify.
Conference systems reward political and commercial partners rather than performance. Geography decides which teams get a free pass to the playoffs.
Find me many outside the architects of the new Super rugby format, boffins and those in paid tournament employment who understand how the system works and equally defend it.
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NZ Conference record against other conferences
1 draw (Blues 25 Reds 25)
2 defeats (Hurricanes 10 Brumbies 52, Chiefs 32 Lions 36).
There were times when derby games in South Africa would appeal and you would record those matches.
Now there’s no guarantee people will tape games involving NZ sides in South Africa, Argentina, Singapore or Japan.
The tournament is too fractured with faceless squads roaming the globe in their weekly employment while the punters are left to lament the weakened competition.
My rugby circles complain about the expanding format and crave a stronger, more compact competition.
These guys like their footy however they are bamboozled by the conference system, exasperated by the weakened expansion and hanker for a tournament which rewards the best and one which they can get a handle on.