How much fairer is the new Super Rugby Competition?

First of all, this difficult article took a lot of thought to write, so I would be keen to answer any questions in the comments section to help people understand my thought process.

As most rugby fans are aware, Super Rugby has abandoned three teams and reformatted the competition to reduce flight distances and improve the fairness of the competition.

So how much fairer has it become? How is it compared to the format in 2015 before the expansion in 2016?

Observing past results

To test this, we will observe what the playoff seeds would have been under the 2015 and 2018 competition structures. This is based on the results of the 2017 tournament.

For each match in 2017, I’ve treated both teams as even test teams (referring to the IRB rankings formula for background). Then calculated the IRB ranking points gained/lost by each team for each match.

Then for each match that didn’t happen in 2017, (eg Jaguares against a New Zealand team), I computed the ranking points gained/lost by the average difference in ranking points gained/lost against oppositions they have both faced.

Methodology example

If Team A faced B, C, and D where Team E faced B, C and F during the season, the ranking points exchanged for the match between Team A and E (which didn’t actually happen) is calculated by:

[ (Ranking points exchanged for Team A vs B – Ranking points exchanged for Team E vs B) +

(Ranking points exchanged for Team A vs C – Ranking points exchanged for Team E vs C) ] / 2

Calculating using methodology

First, I’ve totalled all the ranking points gained/lost against every opponent for each team to create the “Perfectly fair 2017 standings”.

We call this table in this way because based on the margins, home/away grounds and the strength of oppositions each team faced in 2017, this is what the regular season standings would have been if the competition was a perfect round-robin with all matches played on neutral grounds.

Perfectly fair 2017 standings
Actual 2017 standings


We observe that the Brumbies are the only team to have seeded in the 2017 structure that wouldn’t have seeded if the competition was perfectly fair. And this is the exact opposite of the Blues. Therefore, the 2017 competition’s fairness was actually not as bad as most people might expect. Certainly based on “IRB rankings lens” that I have applied.


Now, we will transform this set of perfect round-robin neutral ground matches into the matches that took place in the 2015 season. The seedings based on the 2015 structure will be used.

Transformed 2015 data

When we compare this table to the “Perfectly fair 2017 standings”, the sum of the differences across all teams totals 38.82.

The Highlanders have the largest difference of -6.91. This means the Highlanders were the most disadvantaged team for the 2015 fixtures. Whereas the Waratahs with 4.73 were the most advantaged team.

Not surprisingly, all New Zealand teams have negative differences because the 2015 structure has more fixtures against your own country’s teams and recently the New Zealand teams overall have been the best out of the three countries.

On the other hand, the 2017 results based on the 2018 matches and structure looks like this:

Again, we compare this table to the “Perfectly fair 2017 standings”. The sum of the differences across all teams totals 41.09.

The Highlanders again have the largest difference of -8.21.

The Sunwolves with 4.73 is the most advantaged team for the 2018 fixtures. It is fair to say this is what we expect because the Sunwolves will join the Australian Conference that tends to be performing the worst out of the three countries.


The 2018 structure could be slightly less fair than the 2015 structure and obviously fairer than the 2017 structure. This is largely because each team will face a much wider variety of teams.

Of course, data can never reflect the entire story (for example, this table does not take into account the fairness of different travelling distances between the franchises). But based on the fixtures and the seeding system, the 2015 structure does a better job of seeding the higher performing teams.


Author: Kaito Goto


  1. Great article Kaito!

    For me the two biggest improvements next year will be making everyone play kiwi teams and not having two African teams automatically getting home quarters. The Chiefs really suffered from the latter last year, travelling to Africa and back prior to their semi against the Crusaders.

    I would also make seedings purely based on points rather than pool winners for semis and finals – getting a home quarter is enough of an advantage.

    It will be interesting to see how the Sunwolves go in the Aussie conference, hopefully with an improved squad and weaker opposition there will be more wins.

    • Thanks for your comment JD Kiwi! I really think that is a good idea. Because then at least one home quarter-final will be played in three countries, so the commercial side of the game is kept the same while improving the fairness of the competition.

      Sunwolves, I really hope so, the main problem is that they only have ONE halfback signed, Fumiaki Tanaka… but I am sure Yutaka Nagare and another halfback will join the team soon (hopefully anyway).

    • Hi JD Kiwi
      Honestly the system was a bit unfair, but with the amount of teams it was the best that they could do. With 15 teams and 3 conferences it should improve. But it boils down to commercial viability, and not always what the points are. The problem is the rules change all the time , teams were just added and it got messy. If they stick with the same structure for an extended period of time, it should get easier and teams can prepare better.
      The Africa pool should become more competitive over the next 4 years with cutting two teams.
      I just hope we realize that Super rugby is stronger being inclusive and Southern Hemisphere Rugby is stronger with a strong Australia and Africa. I hope the powers can realize this and structure a competitive Super Rugby tournament.

      • Thanks for getting involved Donovan. What I think is that JD Kiwi’s system was something they could do quite easily and make a small but still an improvement. Giving a home quarter-final for each of the three countries (unless Jaguares or Sunwolves does a Leicester City lol) but from then on, the home advantages are based on seedings. This would’ve made an improvement, a good example would be in the last round of Super Rugby in the 2016 season.

        • I agree fully, but now days the stadiums are only really full for quarters, semi and finals. It is tough to balance the fairness and revenue. Regardless this year I will go to Newlands to watch more live games well that is the goal. I must admit I have been watching so much Top14, Pro14 and Aviva games lately actually looking forward to Super Rugby again, with all its issues still reckon it is a better competition, maybe because I actually support teams.

          • Definitely agree, “balancing fairness and revenue” is the 64 dollar question. I like how you pointed out the European rugby competitions. They not only have an economic advantage compared to Super Rugby, but they also have a high geographical density of franchises.

  2. Respect bro doing all that math. I think thy can keep this conference system but make play off places purely based on point because if the aussie teams stay bad and maybe the africa conference has a banana skin then the contest will be bad like the last few years. Personally a round robin would be the best option for me in terms of the future of Super Rugby. But I am aware finances,travel and time allocation plays a factor.

    • Thanks, Konke Fipaza. I think your idea is great in terms of making the competition fairer, but for the commercial side of stuff, it is not ideal to end up having almost/all playoff games in New Zealand. But I can’t say that I can think of a completely superior idea. Because it always goes back to the trade-off between fairness and commercialization of the competition.

  3. Great Article Kaito San!
    SR needs to balance disadvantages between greats distances flights for some teams in a case of round robin.
    Opposite are both Jaguares and Sunwolves; and domestic NZ conferences. Jaguares and Sunwolves need + 50 players for afford a SR Championship. NZ teams can afford it with a 40 players.
    Economy marks the trend, and this Championship is unbalanced

    • Thanks Kuroi, you have raised a very important point. I would like to add that for the Sunwolves, player welfare is not only a problem because of travel but the fact that some players already play for two teams (a Top League side and the National Side) so they obviously cannot play week-in-week-out during the season too consecutively.


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