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.