Rugby Union

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Brumbies sitting high on the ladder to success

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Australia's top seed going into the Super Rugby finals, and perhaps our only seed, will probably be the Brumbies.

It will definitely be the Brumbies if they score a bonus point (extremely likely, as they have gained at least a point from every match this year) against the Blues, or if the Queensland Reds lose against the NSW Waratahs in the final round.

But although they sit in an enviable position, their win-loss record against other finalists is poor and that is not a good omen for further honours.

There are two anomalies in the Super Rugby draw which are both celebrated and castigated. One is that each team will play only four of the five teams from each of the other two conferences, and the other is that teams play each of the franchises in their own conference on a home and away basis.

The local derbies are hailed for the greater television audience and spectators they capture and therefore revenue they generate, but harpooned as they are seen as facilitating an easier path to the play-offs for teams in a weaker conference.

Both are valid arguments but might not hold sway as, when pushed, a conference may not cede significant revenue for on-field parity.


The more frustrating anomaly, and one which would require only two extra weeks of competition to remedy, is that each team will not play one of the teams from each of the other conferences.

There will always be arguments to and fro about the fairness and appropriateness of such a system but it is inarguable that teams can be either lucky or unlucky with their draw.

And you might not know how lucky or unlucky until the form of the various teams plays out.

For example, few would have anticipated the Waratahs and the Blues to be in the bottom third of the table and the Brumbies to be among the top three sides.

Scratch beneath the surface and one can deduce that the Brumbies have been the beneficiary of a charmed draw in not playing either the Crusaders or the Stormers, both top four teams on the ladder. But by the same token no side has enjoyed an easy victory against them. In fact, of their five losses, the two biggest have been by seven points to the Chiefs and Reds respectively.

That's a respectable counterpoint to anyone who argues they only sit atop the Australian conference because they have been on luck's better side. What goes against them at the business end, however, is their poor record over other sides in the top eight, having played six matches for just one win (that is fewer matches than all other contenders except the Hurricanes who play the Chiefs next week and move to seven).

The Stormers and Chiefs, on the other hand, have both played seven games against other top-eight sides and have each won five of those matches.

While the Reds have won only three of their seven top-eight contests this season, last year, when they won the championship, they beat every other team in the top six in their regular season fixtures. The confidence gained from those victories proved significant in their championship tilt.

In the context of the draw, the Highlanders, a side with some similar unfashionable personality traits to the Brumbies in that they are not imbued with internationals, have most reason to feel aggrieved.

They have drawn every team in the top eight and not the Force (14th) or the Lions (15th). From their 11 matches against top-eight opponents, they won only four but beat every other team they played. Other interesting vagaries are that the Reds and the Bulls drew every other team in the top six and the Hurricanes played neither the Reds nor the Bulls.

Also, and perhaps quite significantly, of the other top four teams, the Stormers didn't play the Chiefs or the Brumbies, the Crusaders didn't play the Brumbies or the Sharks (sixth), and the Chiefs didn't play the Stormers or the Rebels (12th).

The Chiefs aside – as they missed relatively easy points against the Rebels – it is inarguable that bypassing each other in the draw has significantly facilitated the top four table positions.

But ultimately, no matter the postulations, you can only be held accountable for performing against the team that pulls on their boots against you and the Brumbies have fronted up consistently all season.

Again on Saturday night against the Waratahs they triumphed, for only the second time in Sydney in 16 years, and they did so with more confidence than they had either possession or territory.

And though tactics are typically more dangerous through subterfuge rather than certainty, the Brumbies demonstrated again that simple strategy, when laced with pace and purpose, can be equally difficult to counter.

Outside of their position on the ladder, there may have been few surprises in the Brumbies bag of tricks, but that's not to say that they haven't the capacity to startle some big names over the next few weeks.