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Waratahs prop Tom Robertson has called for Super Rugby to return to the round-robin format that made it the best professional rugby competition in the world.
Robertson bristled at Kiwi sentiments that New Zealand’s superior teams were disadvantaged by the current three-conference format but agreed that a round-robin system would result in a “much more even” competition.
“That’s their point of view but hopefully we just beat them and they can see how that talk goes,” he said.
“I understand what they’re saying but at the same time they do get two or three teams through each year generally and they’re generally pretty good teams too.”
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In fact, based on current competition standings New Zealand would field four teams in the quarter finals next week, leaving out only the Blues, who are the second lowest-ranked team on points.
Still, it is the question of home semi-finals that most rankles the New Zealanders. Home games in the final four are awarded to the top two among the three conference winners at the end of the regular season, not the top two teams on points.
So the Waratahs, again on current standings, will host a home semi-final if they progress past the quarters, despite the fact they are ranked below three New Zealand teams on points.
A return to the simplest round-robin format, in which each team would play every other team once, would remove both measures – the guaranteed home quarter-final and the chance to secure a home semi-final.
Speaking as the Waratahs prepare to host the Brumbies in their final regular season match of the year, Robertson backed All Blacks captain Kieran Read, who spoke out last week about making the competition “fairer”.
“It’s probably not my place to say with all the travel – it’s pretty expensive to send blokes all around the world – but I’d love to see that [round robin],” Robertson said.
“You play everyone once, you get one shot unless you play them in the finals. That would make it a lot more even.
“Obviously you get more TV [revenue] and stuff with the derbies and [playing each team] home and away … but from a playing perspective that’s the ideal comp.
“You play everyone once, pick your top eight going into the finals and that’s it. That would be a lot simpler I think.”
Simpler it would be, although not necessarily any better for each team’s bottom line.
Round robin with an existing 15 team roster would see each team lose a crucial home game and each national union the extra profile-raising opportunities presented by at least one guaranteed quarter final each year and a potential semi-final.
It has also buffeted the Waratahs from the effects of their poor record against overseas teams, which saw them notch five losses, a draw and just two wins against New Zealand and South African sides. Robertson was not concerned.
“I think in a couple of those games, if you look at them, we lost to the Crusaders by three, we lost to the Blues by two,” he said.
“The Chiefs, we were up 14-0 after 20 minutes, so we know that in patches we can beat any team on our day.
“I think it’s more about putting in that 80-minute performance and then we know as a team, you look at our backline, we’ve got the best backline in the comp. If we get them clean ball, I’m quite confident we’ll beat any team in the comp.”
There is no doubt, however, that the change would restore some integrity to Super Rugby after the damaging 18-team chapter.
“If you’re a fan you want to see the best teams go through and you want to make it clear what’s going on,” Robertson said. “I think they’re trying to do that but at the moment I don’t think it’s as clear as it could be.”
– Sydney Morning Herald