With all due respect to the Lions, who play a nice brand of football and aren't a bad team at all, it will be ridiculous, bordering on wrong, should they end up being crowned Super Rugby champions in 2017.

For the good of Super Rugby - Southern Hemisphere rugby - the Lions can't become champions this year. It will turn a comedy into a tragedy.

The faintly ridiculous nonsense of stage-managed finals places based on geography is tolerated at the moment for the simple reason that last year at least, despite the discrepancies in quality across the conferences and the daft restrictions on wild cards, no one disputed that the eight best teams made the knockout rounds.

The Hurricanes, who looked like the champion side in the last six weeks, were indeed able to win their first title and do it all at home, which gave the structure a justification of sorts.


But if the Lions are able to secure the number one ranking at the end of conference play this year and go on to win a maiden title in Johannesburg, Super Rugby's credibility will be stretched beyond breaking point and its reputation will be in tatters.

A title for them will be a victory for a lop-sided, ill-conceived format. Should they win, they can rightly argue that they could only beat the teams put in front of them, but that's kind of the point.

There won't be any New Zealand sides put in front of them until the knock-out rounds, and even then, looking at how things are shaping up, probably won't happen until the semifinals.

And that just can't be the right way to go about winning a title fairly. The quality and intensity of rugby in the New Zealand Conference is beyond any dispute, head and shoulders, higher than anywhere else.

Only one non-New Zealand side, the Stormers, has managed to claim a Kiwi scalp this year.

But forget the tangible assessments for a moment and work more on observation and gut feel to determine which are the best teams this year. That's more important - fans know what they are watching, can see which teams are better than others.

By this stage of the season it becomes fairly obvious who the most serious contenders are: which teams are playing the most effective and consistent rugby.

On that top list are the Crusaders, Chiefs and Hurricanes. Everything about them screams possible eventual winners. The usual variables - a bit of unexpected magic, a horrible mistake, a terrible refereeing call - should determine which one of them actually goes on to win.


But it should be one of those three who wins because they have the best players, the most depth, the highest skill levels, the best ability to deal with pressure and are most effectively marrying their gameplan to their respective personnel.

These are the things that matter and in the normal course of events should be ultimately rewarded.

But Super Rugby doesn't do normal course of events because the Lions, who, along with the Highlanders, sit half a step down from the top group, are nudging towards favourite status based not on their ability, but the softness of their path to glory.

To imagine they could end up champions by avoiding playing a New Zealand side until the semifinals doesn't feel right and for all that they are a good team, it won't feel good for Super Rugby to be crowning them champions this year.