With one round to go, players and coaches will be labouring the importance of taking home advantage into the Super Rugby playoffs.

The message, so heavily repeated, tends to get lost but the statistics are emphatic and confirm next weekend's last round could have a massive bearing on who wins this season's competition.

Unusually, there are a handful of teams who can still, mathematically at least, claim the No 1 ranking if things go their way in the last round. But it's the first-placed Lions and second-placed Chiefs, separated by just one point, who have the best chance of sealing home advantage through to the final. And both will know exactly how that affects their chances of being crowned champions.

Finishing first in the round robin, or conference-phase as it has become, brings a 65 per cent chance of winning the competition. In the 20 years of Super Rugby, the team who have finished with the No 1 ranking have gone on to be champions 13 times.


There have been four teams - the Blues in 1998, Brumbies in 2000, Sharks in 2007 and Hurricanes in 2015 - who came into the playoffs ranked first but lost the final on their home ground.

Taking that top ranking gives teams an 80 per cent chance of making the final.

Teams who have finished second over the years have been able to fight their way back on occasion. There are five previous champions who won from their second-placed ranking: the Blues in 1996, Crusaders in 1998 and 2000, and Bulls in 2007.

But while finishing second has meant only a 25 per cent chance of winning the title, it comes with a 50 per cent chance of making the final.

Interestingly, never before has a team that finished with the third ranking won the title, but on two occasions - the Crusaders in 1999 and Highlanders in 2015 - the fourth-placed team have gone on to be crowned champions.

Since the introduction of the conference system in 2001, which came with an extra playoff round, it has been possible for teams ranked fifth and sixth to feature prominently.

The Sharks finished sixth in 2012 but managed to pull off two away wins - against the Reds and Stormers - to force their way into the final against the Chiefs in Hamilton.

No side has managed to win three away playoff games in succession, highlighting how hard life becomes for those teams who have to travel in the knockout rounds.

Perhaps the most telling statistic is that, of 70 playoff games since 1996, there have been only 14 away wins.

The Crusaders have been the masters of this: winning three away finals in 1998, 1999, 2000 and away semifinals in 1999 and 2011. The Highlanders won away semifinals in 1999 and 2015 and took their one title in Wellington - which means the two South Island clubs have claimed more than half the away playoff victories in Super Rugby history.

This year is slightly different under an expanded competition and it's not impossible to see a team ranked between five and eight do well given they will be made up largely of New Zealand sides. But there's no doubt they would prefer to hold home advantage.