It is crunch time to determine the playoff placings in Super Rugby, and some teams could be left ruing their luck when the week concludes.

While that luck can take many forms, the largest factor in the Super Rugby season has been the luck of the draw, which has lifted some teams to playoff spots which could soon prove to be unearned.

It may be a stretch to call it luck in some cases - we knew from the start that the system gifted a big advantage to the teams residing in the Africa 1 conference, who faced no clashes against New Zealand sides.

However, we can see through calculating each team's strength of schedule just how easy their run through the season has been.


For the uninitiated, strength of schedule (SOS) is a figure which calculates the difficulty of each team's opponents, when compared to other sides. It is a statistic which has proved to be more valuable this season, where teams can go the whole season playing some teams twice while avoiding certain others.

It is worth noting that by design, the lesser sides in the competition have their strength of schedules slightly inflated because they are the defeated teams giving victories to the top sides, therefore improving their opponent's records. For example, that is why the Blues - who would rank highly regardless - top the list after losing five Kiwi derbies to teams who have all reached the 10-win mark.

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However, that small portion does not account for the creampuff schedule enjoyed by the Stormers, Bulls and Cheetahs - only one of whom have managed to capitalise on it in a meaningful way. Comparatively the Sharks - recipients of the fifth hardest schedule - have battled hard and could make a comprehensive case for being the best non-Lions South African side this season, despite lagging seven points behind the Stormers on the ladder.

The system which was meant to provide an easier entry into the league for the Sunwolves (and the Kings) has done so in part, but has had the flow-on effect of shielding the Bulls and Stormers from the class of the competition.

The Bulls in particular are completely undeserving of a playoff berth, having the second easiest schedule in the league - one which many teams would have utilised to cakewalk their way into the playoffs. While they will likely miss out on the playoffs, the Stormers have locked in a home playoff despite facing no New Zealand sides. Whether they would be in this position regardless will be found out when they get to host a Kiwi team in a quarterfinal next week.

It is not just the New Zealand teams wistfully gazing at the schedules of teams in the Africa 1 conference - the much maligned Australian Super Rugby sides have been recipients of a much tougher slate than their African rivals. The Force and the Reds have battled through schedules with several trips to New Zealand, while the Brumbies should pip the Waratahs for a spot in the playoffs after both sides received a fair allotment of Kiwi conquests.

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Amongst the New Zealand contenders, the Chiefs and Highlanders have had the toughest schedules - a figure that will only rise when they face each other on Saturday, while the Crusaders and Hurricanes have faced league-average slates.

The league-leading Lions have had it better than most, with the easiest strength of schedule outside of the Africa 1 conference, but have at least had to take on Kiwi contenders - thrashing the Blues and edging the Chiefs, while coming close to toppling the Crusaders and being battered by the Hurricanes.

Strength of schedule doesn't factor in the differing travel schedules that each team faces, which varies greatly across the 18 franchises. According to the Twitter account @JapanRugbyClub, the Sunwolves will cover 80,277km during the season, while the Blues rank midtable in distance covered.

Whether strength of schedule is a supremely meaningful indicator will be tested in the playoffs, where the Stormers will finally face a Kiwi side, and the Lions could be charged with beating two consecutive Kiwi teams to raise the trophy. However, their relatively easy schedules have given them pivotal home advantages, which could tip the odds in their favour.

Will their relatively painless regular seasons and home advantage be deciding factors come playoff time, or will they be in for a rude awakening?

We will find out next weekend.