Warren Gatland, in his latest book In the Line of Fire, talks about Forsyth Barr Stadium.
He says, “It’s the hardest pitch in New Zealand by a long way. Opposition players often struggle and cramp up, because they’re not used to such a firm surface”.
Does this mean the Highlanders have a greater home advantage than other franchises for having a unique stadium like Forsyth Barr as their home stadium?
To answer this question, we will observe the “Home advantage per game”. This is the average margin in home games minus the average margin in away games. Thus it’s the average amount of points a team improves their margin by playing at home.
The dataset is based on results from the 2012 season onwards, mainly because 2012 was when the Highlanders started using Forsyth Barr as their home ground.
I have highlighted the Australian, New Zealand and South African teams in yellow, grey and green respectively.
The Sunwolves have a much higher home advantage than any other Super Rugby teams. But this isn’t too much of a surprise. Firstly, because they travel the most during their season (substantially). And also, they tend to field a much stronger team for their home games. There are examples that support this claim in both of their seasons.
In 2017, Harumichi Tatekawa and Shota Horie both were injured. They are both valuable players as they have captained the Sunwolves during their time. But when they recovered from injury, they stayed in Japan to play for the National side in the Asian Nations. Instead of flying over to play for the Sunwolves away in South Africa, they stayed in Japan until the next home match. In 2016, they beat the Jaguares at home just one week after their defeat to the Cheetahs 92-17 away.
It is interesting that the Highlanders actually have a reasonably low home advantage (16th out of 18 teams) and actually the lowest out of the New Zealand teams.
Thus, the 2012 to 2017 Super rugby results actually support the hypothesis that the Highlanders have a lower home advantage than most franchises. Warren Gatland is human after all!
The three Super Rugby teams that have been abandoned had the lowest home advantages in their respective nations. The Cheetahs and the Kings are the bottom two in South Africa. The Force is the lowest in Australia. This reflects the financial hardship these teams faced. Because it might have resulted in a lack of support for their home games.
Author: Kaito Goto