We as South African rugby supporters are so passionate about the sport, we live, breath and eat rugby, some even say we are religious when it comes to the sport. This is great for the game, with this passion comes great interest and investment from fans and business alike, this investment helps to grow and improve the game, the down side to this zealous support is that we sometimes lose objectivity when assessing the state of our rugby and our teams.
Don’t get me wrong, I get worked up, elated and frustrated just like most when watching rugby, I wear my heart on my sleeve when my team takes the field, but after the final whistle, well maybe not right after the final whistle, I like to take emotion out when assessing the team’s performance. This is why after every weekend of SANZAR rugby I always like to read articles by Kiwi journalist Tony Johnson, his outside view is almost always unbiased, honest and places games, especially those involving SA teams, into perspective for me.
Now I don’t expect us to be void of ANY bias or emotion when discussing or writing about our rugby, it’s the differences in viewpoints that make the braai-time banter interesting. We all have different choices for different positions and preferences to different playing styles, these are aspects which are subjective and are needed to create healthy debate, to gain new ideas and to ultimately improve.
What I do find frustrating is when fans and rugby analysts take obvious information and twist it to support arguments that bolster the image of our rugby, sometimes undeservedly. I am all for backing your country, in fact I take exception to those who do not cheer for an SA team when they play ANZAC teams, but I cringe at the arrogance that is sometimes dished up by people when our teams are perceived to be doing well.
The most recent SA rugby propaganda being reported is that the South African conference in this year’s Super Rugby tournament was the strongest of the 3, it is suggested that because we had three teams in the top 6 and one topping the overall table that we were better than the Australasian conferences, this argument, while on the surface looks appealing and true, conveniently excludes the performances of the other 9 teams. Each conference is made up 5 teams and therefore all these teams HAVE to be included when judging the performance of the entire conference.
I am no statistician and know that anyone can bring in a multitude of additional figures to disprove my logic, but below I try to illustrate which was the best conference in this year’s Super Rugby tournament by focusing simply on log points attained. Log points are the end game to get home ground advantage, teams can get points even when they lose if they are competitive enough, so I feel this is an accurate gauge of conference strength.
In the tables below I compare total maximum points available to a conference to their final points accumulated by the teams. Each derby match provides the 2 teams to get a combined maximum of 7 points from a game while each cross conference match offers either team to get a maximum of 5 points. So let us get to numbers.
As we can see from this illustration is that the NZ conference is almost 4 bonus point match wins ahead of us in the final analysis, that is quite substantial if you ask me. This year Australia were very poor by only taking half of their points on offer, the numbers would suggest though that the conferences were closer to each other when looking at the competitiveness of the derby games, who said the Aussie conference would be easy?
I have also added as similar analysis using the top 3 finishers from each conference, with this graph I wanted to illustrate that although we had 3 teams in the top 6 we ended with only 2 more points than the NZ conference top 3. Not really the dominance some might want you to believe.
All numbers aside the more important fact is that we had 3 teams in the finals and only came away with that participation medal they call the conference trophy, let anyone try argue that we are the best after that that little stat.
The addition of ex Bok and Italy coach Nick Mallet to the SuperSport rugby panel has been great for me to watch, his frank opinions on various rugby topics have been a breath of fresh air and is exactly what SuperSport desperately needed as the sports channel has become more of a pom-pom bearing cheerleader of SA rugby than critical analysts most fans enjoy. Their pre/post match analyses have become predictable and not even a touch screen can liven up what to me has become a glorified post match, clichéd interview. Mallett offers us more with his insight and thought provoking arguments than any of the player sound bites and video clips thrown at us every Thursday night. He asks the hard questions which are avoided by most, questions which some are too scared to know the answers to.
We need people like Mallett and Johnson to give us perspective, to generate debate and to help us put a spotlight on the deficiencies in our rugby, to help us remove our green tinted dimmers, if we can’t do that, how else are we to improve?