Six-team playoffs: Yes or No?

Super Rugby is set to change (again!) in 2021. The Sunwolves are out, the conference system will be scrapped and the remaining 14 teams will play each other once (home or away) in a round robin format that includes two byes per team.

Instead of capping the season with conventional semis and a final, the league phase leads into a three-week finals series between the top six teams, with the top two waiting at home for a semi-final against the winners of 3 v 6 and 4 v 5. The AOR team squares up to debate the merits of the change in playoff format.

Tank Lanning – NO
As someone who would happily see the Jags and Chiefs join the Sunwolves on the cutting room floor in a return to the hugely successful Super 12, the six team finals series goes against everything that was once good about Super Rugby.

After 15 weeks of competition (including the two bye weeks) between the top 14 provincial franchises in the Southern Hemisphere, we now want close on half of them to be given another bite at the cherry in a new, three-week comp? A three-week comp that is so massively biased to the teams seeded one and two, it is almost farcical.

So why even have the first 15 weeks then? All we are doing is under-valuing the heart of the comp – one that is eventually going to revert to an “all teams play all” format that most of us have been calling for from the very second it was taken away.

Well, it’s of course there to create extra content for the all-consuming – and, crucially, all-paying – broadcasters, and to try and manufacture a way for all three (or four, even) regions to have an interest in the tournament extension. Understandable goals, but ones that come at a cost.

In effect, it’s giving little Johnny a run in the Sports Day 100m final even though his time was palpably outside the previously agreed qualification time. Lest Johnny’s dad, set to contribute to the new tartan track being installed next year, not have a reason to be at Sports Day.

The trouble, though, is that in order for little Johnny to be able to run, the athletics track needs to have 14 lanes instead of 10, and all that does is push the spectators further away from the action.

Zelím Nel – YES
Participation medals are the worst. Everyone is special, but everyone is not special at everything, or even most things. The reason we celebrate great performers is because they’re in the overwhelming minority. If everyone could sing like Mariah Carey, we wouldn’t know her name.

Dishing out trophies for converting oxygen into carbon dioxide sets the bar as low as it can go, so it’s an out-of-body experience to be championing a playoff series that rewards mediocrity. I mean, when you end the season almost halfway down the standings, the word ‘contender’ doesn’t exactly spring to mind, and yet that’s exactly what we’ll have in 2021.

Ideally, there is no final and the team that tops the log wins the championship – after all, the team that finished second hasn’t earned a shot at the title.

But Super Rugby is not ideal. The round robin format is a single round, which gives your team a tougher schedule in 2021 when they travel to Christchurch than they will have in 2022. It also means that, in a 13-match campaign, your team plays more road games every second season. And then there’s the long-standing geography bias which tilts tours in favour of the Australasian teams.

Super Rugby is not a balanced competition and, within this context, a wider playoff series throws South Africa a bone.

Since the comp expanded to 15 teams in 2011, six of SA’s 14 playoff teams would have qualified in fifth or sixth place without the leg-up of the conference system. On log points alone, three New Zealand teams would have advanced straight to the semi-finals in each of the past four seasons, with no SA team in 2015 and the Lions only playing one of three successive semi-finals at home.

In this format, SA teams would seldom reach the playoffs and (prior to 2011) the All Blacks were a case study in what happens when you’re not adequately prepared for knockout footy.

Coaching in South Africa is significantly tougher than it is in New Zealand or Australia and, after almost 25 years in a lopsided competition, I can live with a playoff series that favours the Republic.

You’ve read what they think, now let us know where you stand in The Big Debate!

- Big Debate

Let's chat

  • Johan

    Can you guys help? I seem unable to find the stats…

    Has the kicking out of the Cheetahs, Kings and Force improved the viewership/stadium numbers?

    I have a sneaky suspicion that it did not…

    I still believe that the problem with super rugby is not the number of teams, but I am open to being proven wrong.

    • Barry

      Johan, I think these are different subjects viz. The Broadcasters are not really bothered by stadium attendance, they sell viewership.

      The franchises certainly are concerned about attendance, but it is very obviously broadcaster driven, so attendance takes a back seat!

    • John Comyn

      I think one of the objectives was that other franchises would be strengthened by having more players available. It was not to be because The Kings & Cheetahs joined the PRO14 tournament. While players from the Force were absorbed by the other unions in OZ it does not seem to be helping but still early days when having depth kicks in.

  • Herman Schroder?

    To produce a true champion then a simple league format is still the only way to ensure which is the most consistent team in any given year. The football Premier League is the most watched comp in the world. Reason ? All teams play each other home and away and the winner takes it all. Just ask Abba.

    To accommodate this the league must be reduced even further to say 10, 11 or 12 teams depending on the politics of the day. The top performing teams of the previous three years, 2018, 2019 and 2020 will constitute the league with a promotion relegation for the bottom spot to ensure the non qualifying teams have a chance to enter the big time.

    Even a 12 team log will produce 22 games which is only three more than the amount of games the Crusaders and Lions played last year. Sure you lose the sudden death knockout rounds but more games will be on a knife edge in the round robin format over a longer period. That should satisfy the moguls counting the dollars.

    Simplify things by going back to the basics and you will ensure a true champion is crowned each year. The Lions lost the 2017 final at Emirates due to a red card. If you don’t win with the round robin format you only have yourself to blame, you just weren’t consistent enough. That’s far more palatable. Cheers.

    • D John

      For the first time since Fred Flinstone played in the front row, Herman has something constructive to say.

      • SweetAz

        I think its a troll posing as Schrodinger, he didn’t mention domkrag once, BUT whoever it is must be a Lions supporter because they just couldn’t resist turning the whole post into a Lion’s circlejerk.

      • Dean Bright

        hahaha top comment! really enjoyed that one D John

      • Barry

        Absolutely John, it’s very concerning. Lol

  • Barry

    Would tend to go with Tank on this one. It seems, once again, to be broadcaster driven, which is a bit silly, because if interest is lost, viewership will drop and the concept will fail. What part of “less is more” or “strength Vs Strength” is that difficult to understand?

    It was Dean, in yesterday’s blog that suggested a second tier competition, for those teams that were unable to make the Super 12 cut (yes prefer 12 not 14). This would present broadcasters with greater opportunity to play to a wider audience base and thus make more money.

    Zelim, though I agree that the lopsided nature of the competition needs addressing, it would likely best be done by going back to a Super 12 format! Fifth place stats are not really reliable, because as teams approach play off spots, they posture to get best possible playoff spot. A good example would be the Sharks dropping a home game so that they had a play off slot in SA against the Lions rather than in Christchurch, had the won!

    • Tank Lanning Tank Lanning

      Yes, the lopsided ness of the comp is a great pick up by Zels. And it’s a massive issue given that the Australasians will have 9 sides and we will have 4. Tours down under will be 4 to 5 weeks long which is industrial. Perhaps all 4 SA sides should always get 7 home games as part of the compromise?

  • Dean Bright

    I’m really not sure. I mean would you watch the playoffs if there wasn’t a SA team in the Top 4? I wouldn’t. Still, our Super Rugby franchises were at their strongest when they were combined by region. Remember the Cats…wow! The Stormers drew some talent from Boland and SWD. The Sharks were bringing in the EP players. Why did we move away from that which was working so well for us. Now we have 6 franchises with the depth spread thin and our team’s are unable to compete consistently. Surely, we should have all our best resources thrown into 4 franchises of equal strength to try and win that trophy. It would be interesting to see what the benefits have been, if any of having the Cheetahs and Kings playing Pro 14. SARU still seems in debt, we’re still losing players to overseas clubs at a rate of knots and all you need to do is turn on the telly to watch the Kings get a bladdy good hiding every week.

    • Tank Lanning Tank Lanning

      Not sure everyone remembers the Cats or that fugly Stormers jersey as fondly as you do, Dean. Playing home games away was also an issue …

      But you raise a great point re the Cheetahs and Kings. Yet again, we have acted for the immediate gain instead of the long term good. Instead of making like the Aussies and using the players from the cut Force in other regions, we have maintained our player dilution. This while maintaining our status as an exporter of talent to Europe. We just do not have the resources to sustain it

  • Herman Schroder?

    Oh the unbelievers on this site, so sad. Some call me negative, others like SweetAz spend their lives avidly following my posts to spot any inconsistencies or bias etc. No problem.

    Here’s why I am the most constructive ‘critic’ on these sites and have been for 6 years now. Back in 2014 I called for Heyneke Meyers head as well as Alistair Coetzee’s head both as Stormers and subsequently as Bok coach. More recently Rob Du Preez, Robbie Fleck have fallen foul of my radar and Rassie has also proved nothing and will prove nothing come the WC. You have heard it here first.

    Now these gentleman were never criticized by me before they cocked up but well before their failures and you need only go to the SS’s rugby archives to verify this. I in fact predicted with unfailing accuracy why they would fail and boy did they vindicate my total lack of faith in their abilities to perform. The piss poor record of the Boks and our three ‘other’ Franchises only proves my point.

    The Lions showed the way and nobody followed. The other Franchises were quite happy to live in dom krag la la land and continue on the path of so called traditional ‘Bok’ rugby. Believe it or not this call is still heard to this very day. The rest of the world has moved on but our rugby still remains locked in the past despite the fact that it has been spectacularly unsuccessful this past DECADE. No trophies of any description in that period says it all.

    Now to answer my critics may I ask, who was negative and who was constructive ?? I was constructively attacking the source of our decline ie poor coaches with even poorer game plans while others were prepared to either suffer in silence or made their dog’s lives very uncomfortable on Saturday nights while putting away copious amounts of ‘branners and coke’. The template from the Lions was there but no one saw the signs. Sad indeed.

    After this mornings Stormers poor effort I am now heading off to watch the two domkrag exponents do battle at Kings Park. Will we see three passes successfully completed ? I doubt it. Cheers.

  • Graeme

    The Pro 14 would be a better option for all our teams ……

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