Dylan Cleaver's Midweek Fixture

The Super Rugby format is great.

It's taken me a long time to recognise that but there it is, I've gone and said it.

Before we sail this ship down through this rocky channel, let me throw out a lifeboat so this column doesn't sink without a trace: there is a lot wrong with Super Rugby but the format, a divisional competition with a three-week playoff series, is not one of them.


The fact many find it so confusing and unfair speaks more to the average rugby fan's resistance to change and possibly their inability to wrap hard-wired minds around relatively simple concepts than it does to a fault in the system.

The format is the one glorious thing about this bloated, geographically paralysing, talent deficient excuse for a professional competition.

Strip away all the white noise and what you get is this: the three divisional winners and best-placed second team are rewarded with home quarter-finals while the best of the rest travel, just as they should do; the two quarter-final winners with the best record get a home semifinal, just as they should do; the winning semifinalist with the best record hosts the final.

Just as they've earned the right to do.

This is not difficult to understand. The key is to think of the Super Rugby regular season not as a homogenous whole, but as three distinct inter-divisional tournaments. Your first priority as a squad of players and coaches should be to win your division.

Those that claim the Chiefs were hard done by because they had to travel to Wellington even though they finished the regular season with more points the Waratahs, who played at home, are missing the, um, points.

The Chiefs finished third in their division. Third! The fact that the New Zealand division was clearly stronger than the others (this is a genuine problem of Super Rugby that I will touch on later) is actually irrelevant. If you finish third in a five-team competition you don't deserve a rails run into the semifinals.

The Waratahs got a home semifinal because they did what they had to do, which was finish ahead of the Brumbies, Rebels, Reds and, say it quietly, Sunwolves. That's their division. Okay, it's not a great one, but it's theirs and they did the job.

As it was, the system allowed the New Zealand division to supply four of the eight quarter-finalists. We really have nothing to complain about the format unless we just love complaining.

The division winners get priority seeding, the best of the rest get a chance to write a fairytale story.

If you think this is dangerously close to being a Super Rugby love-fest, now would be a good time to note that the format is the only good thing about it. The rest of it has been pretty bad.

Even the New Zealand derbies have been a bit watery, though there is hope for one last classic this weekend.

The New Zealand division's dominance is, however, boring and it's difficult to see a time when it ends.

Whenever you get a great team, or great bunch of teams, the hope is it will raise all boats. It never happens in the cross-border Super Rugby because the contracting and drafting systems don't allow it.

The 15 franchises don't have equal access to young and established talent and unless there are radical changes in the player-movement system – which you suspect would benefit all teams bar the New Zealand franchises – they never will.

That, along with the ridiculous travel imposed on teams like the Jaguares and Sunwolves, will always prevent Super Rugby being a "fair" tournament.

The format is about the only thing about Super Rugby that is based in sound logic.


From the moment the police tell the man lying in the bottom of a freshly dug grave with an apparent bullet wound in his temple to "get up now", this is a riveting soap opera of a sports story. From ESPN.