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Conference call: closeness a sign of competition's growing strength

Date

Ewen McKenzie

Glass is half full .. the tightness of the Australian conference is a sign of strength, not mediocrity.

Glass is half full .. the tightness of the Australian conference is a sign of strength, not mediocrity. Photo: Getty Images

I was asked on New Zealand radio yesterday about the relative strength of the Australian conference compared to the rest. Everyone has their thoughts but I have found this year's competition to be one of the tightest in memory and this is more of a reflection on the strength of play from all teams as opposed to any perceived weaknesses.

It's also difficult to compare the conferences because at this point there have been vast differences in each team's campaigns - and this has a direct impact on the perception of progress.

Use the Queensland Reds, for example. At this point we have not played any New Zealand sides and we have played five of our eight matches against Australian opposition. We have also finished the major parts of our travel to South Africa and Perth, all with an unusually high injury toll.

On the other hand the Brumbies, who are now in South Africa, have played only three of their eight derby matches, and are still required to play us again and the Waratahs twice. The conference situation could still change dramatically.

The example above isn't to discredit the Brumbies achievements but to point out that drawing too many conclusions based on ladder position at the halfway mark of the season can be dangerous.

In fact it's worth noting to all the critics just how well the Brumbies are faring. They have played some strong rugby. Everyone loves a surprise and they are doing really well. Their efforts are similar to our run last season.

Contrary to popular opinion, there are a bunch of teams who have improved greatly. If we listened to the naysayers then the Chiefs, Highlanders and even Cheetahs shouldn't be in the positions they are. However, it's clear these three teams have been doing some great work and are stepping up to the standard of the traditionally strong teams such as the Bulls, Stormers and Crusaders.

In the past, each conference has always included two or three very strong teams while the rest have been playing catch-up. The positive news for the competition is that some of those teams have caught up and it's making each game interesting and unpredictable. This is great for fans.

This week we take on the Blues. We have a 4-4 win-loss record while they are sitting 1-7. If you looked at each team's preseason lists you may have predicted that both would be in a better position, but it's a reflection on where the competition sits. Tomorrow night will be crucial for both teams, and like us, they will be focused more on the possibilities ahead rather than looking back.

When you have a bunch of good players everyone knows it's only a matter of time before they ''click''. Going to Eden Park to play a wounded Blues team is never an enviable task and I have been around long enough to know the enormity of the challenge we face.

For us the match has a finals feel to it and you should expect there to be some desperation on display as proud players try to keep their season on track. One thing I know is that as both teams progress to the later stages of the season, there won't be many teams that will not be a little nervous about playing us. Our best rugby is yet to be seen.

The history of Super Rugby shows that every team has struggled at some point - even the Crusaders. There are always reasons behind this but if history has told us anything it's to analyse and judge what happens in the long term before being too critical.

Our competition is now long enough for teams to find form, get injured players back, and I think that makes for an exciting finish to an exciting season. Maybe we should examine the relative strengths of the conferences when the round robin stages are finished playing out - I think there are a few twists and turns to go.

44 comments so far

  • Could this season see the sham of the conference system exposed by a 7th place team making the playoffs due to being top of their conference?

    I can easily see the legitimate top 6 being 3 New Zealand and 3 South African teams, with one of them being bumped to make room for a lower-placed Australian team.

    Commenter
    The Claw
    Location
    Sydney
    Date and time
    April 26, 2012, 9:20AM
    • Agreed.... The conference system is a sham & I've thought so from day 1.The 6 best teams should make the final regardless of where they're based.

      If they must insist on this set up at least reduce it to 2 mixed conferences & drop the guranteed finals spots for each country.

      Commenter
      Camomatic
      Location
      The Winners Circle
      Date and time
      April 26, 2012, 11:38PM
  • We are clearly the weakest conference this year but this is still the right system. You also need to remember that we have 2 relatively new franchises who are still relying on poaching B grade players from Sydney and Brisbane club comps to make up numbers, so it will take years for them to get the right support structures to become dominant.

    Commenter
    Dan
    Location
    Nth Sydney
    Date and time
    April 26, 2012, 9:49AM
    • It is a shame there isn't another tier in Oz rugby so these "B" players would already have been exposed to better competition. Sydney and Brisbane club versus NPC and Currie Cup just isn't a comparison.

      Commenter
      Shop
      Location
      Argentina
      Date and time
      April 26, 2012, 10:21AM
    • I wouldn't call the Shute Shield B grade...it's more about selecting the right players than not having another tier

      Commenter
      Phil
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      April 26, 2012, 12:51PM
    • @Phil

      I didn't say the Shute Shield was B grade and there is obviously plenty of talent to be found. However if the top players were selected from all comps plus those that don't make the Wallabies squad played against each other on a regular basis, don't you think it would make it easier to slot into Super rugby?

      The APC should at least have been given a fair go instead of being brought down after just one year by club interests. Ultimately it has put Oz rugby back years.

      Commenter
      Shop
      Location
      Argentina
      Date and time
      April 26, 2012, 1:36PM
    • The Shute Shield also does nothing to grow the sport in the areas it needs growing for it to be able to feed and sustain the expansion teams. Without a national competition below Super rugby that also contains teams from both Victoria & WA those franchises will never be able to stand alone in their own right and develop their own players without NSW & QLD providing the vast bulk of their cattle.

      Commenter
      Jaime
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      April 26, 2012, 5:58PM
    • @Shop I was replying to Paul's comment, My comment just appears under yours.

      I still think that the great thing about club rugby (at least in Sydney as it's the only one available to me to watch) is that it is an exciting blend of Super rugby players or fringe players, experienced club players and talented youth and it has proven to provide heaps of players to Super rugby, the majority of which have done extremely well e.g. Dave Harvey, Scott Fardy, Hugh Pyle, Bernard Foley.
      I think the ARC was great rugby, but I still think Club Rugby has and will provide that same level of rugby and the key element is having the best recruiters and selectors that can see the right players for Super rugby. Plus the Sydney Rugby Union has introduced some rep games to give more opportunties to players to showcase their talents in a selective group of the best club rugby players.
      I'd prefer to see a reworked national comp where the best club teams from each state play eachother.

      Commenter
      Phil
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      April 27, 2012, 5:01PM
    • @Phil

      I like the idea of more rep rugby. I also want to see a national comp somehow reworked. I suppose the real issue is preparing players for the Super level which club rugby in its current form doesn't do nearly well enough.

      Commenter
      Shop
      Location
      Argentina
      Date and time
      April 28, 2012, 10:52AM
  • The Claw, let me guess, another bitter kiwi who can't stand living in NZ . Are there any lemons left in NZ ?

    Commenter
    johnny-boy
    Date and time
    April 26, 2012, 9:58AM

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