Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Rugby: No home advantage for NZ players

Referee Craig Joubert watches on as Chiefs' Toni Pulu & Sam Cane are involved in a bust up with Hurricanes' Julian Savea during the Round 9 Super Rugby match. Photo / Getty Images
Referee Craig Joubert watches on as Chiefs' Toni Pulu & Sam Cane are involved in a bust up with Hurricanes' Julian Savea during the Round 9 Super Rugby match. Photo / Getty Images

The numbers are confirming the perception that Super Rugby is not an even playing field.

The New Zealand Conference looks harder, more intense and the teams in it will be disadvantaged by having to play six games each among themselves.

Statistics confirm this. New Zealand teams have collectively won 85 per cent of their games against Australian sides this year. The only blemishes have been the Hurricanes' opening-game thumping by the Brumbies and the Highlanders' almost inexplicable loss to the Reds. The Blues also drew with the Reds.

Ahead of this morning's games (the Hurricanes played the Sharks and Blues took on the Kings), New Zealand teams had won 81 per cent of their games against South African teams and were undefeated in the Republic.

The Lions' surprise defeat of the Chiefs in Hamilton and the Sharks' victory against the 14-man Highlanders were the aberrations.

And with every New Zealand side bar the Highlanders having played and defeated the Jaguares, the record against the sole Argentine representative is 100 per cent.

But when the numbers are broken down to show how each New Zealand team has fared within the inter-conference split, the numbers make for different reading.

The Blues have played four New Zealand sides and won only once. The Chiefs won their first three games against Kiwi teams, beating the Blues, Crusaders and Hurricanes, before last night's home loss to the Highlanders.

The Crusaders are on a 50 per cent win ratio, having lost to the Chiefs but beaten the Blues, and the Hurricanes are one from three - with a win against the Blues and defeats against the Highlanders and Chiefs.

The Highlanders are two from three, having lost to the Blues but beaten the Hurricanes and Chiefs.

These figures challenge some established patterns. It always used to be that the trip to South Africa was seen by New Zealand sides as the major challenge in their schedule, that it felt like the equivalent to the stagger in a 400m race, that those who had been were better placed than the table suggested.

Not now. The real stagger now is the number of games each New Zealand side has played within their own conference and, to that end, perhaps the Blues aren't so badly placed.

They have four out of the way, with two left against the Hurricanes and Crusaders. They also have three games left against Australian sides.

The Highlanders, on the other hand, still have to play the Chiefs again, Crusaders and Hurricanes and have not yet been to South Africa.

The Chiefs arguably have a reasonable run-in with games to come against the Rebels, Waratahs and Reds. The Crusaders have four New Zealand games left and the Hurricanes three and, looking at what lies ahead, the most critical fixture is potentially going to be when the Chiefs meet the Crusaders in Suva on July 1.

That feels like it will be the game which decides the eventual winner of the New Zealand Conference. The Chiefs have a bye next weekend and then play the Rebels and Waratahs before the break for the June tests. They'd be disappointed if they didn't win both of those fixtures, although the Waratahs in Sydney will be challenging.

The Crusaders have to play the Highlanders in Dunedin, the Waratahs at home and the Blues away before the June test window and, on current form, they'd be a good bet to be in touch with the Chiefs when the two meet in Fiji.

That game will most likely put the winner into pole position to be crowned conference champions. And the importance of that is huge.

Given the competition points the Chiefs and Crusaders have already collected, it's almost certain the winner of the New Zealand Conference is going to be ranked No 1 in the playoffs.

That ranking means a guaranteed home quarter-final against the eighth-placed team and home advantage for the remainder of the competition if they keep winning.

The highest ranking whoever finishes second in the New Zealand Conference can claim is fifth and that will mean an away quarter-final which may be against the winner of the Australian Conference.

NZ teams against the rest
85% - record against Australian teams
81% - record against South African teams
100% - record against Argentine team

Blues (winning percentage)
NZ teams - 25 per cent (4 games)
SA teams - 100 per cent* (1)
Aus teams - 50 per cent** (2)
Arg team - 100 per cent (1)
* played overnight
** + one draw

Chiefs
NZ teams - 75 per cent (4)
SA teams - 50 per cent (2)
Aus teams - 100 per cent (2)
Arg team - 100 per cent (1)

Hurricanes
NZ teams - 33 per cent (3)
SA teams - 100 per cent* (2)
Aus teams - 66 per cent (3)
Arg team - 100 per cent (1)
* played overnight

Crusaders
NZ teams - 50 per cent (2)
SA teams - 100 per cent (3)
Aus teams - 100 per cent (2)
Arg team - 100 per cent (1)

Highlanders
NZ teams - 66 per cent (3)
SA teams - 50 per cent (2)
Aus teams - 80 per cent (5)

- Herald on Sunday

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