Field Theory by Hadyn Green


It's the Super 14, baby!

I was in the pub a few weeks back with my friend Dom. We were talking sports and so naturally the Super 14 came up.

"What's wrong with it?" he asked. "Why isn't it interesting?"

He's right too. There have been a number of articles recently about the subject arguing every side of every argument about the "current state of rugby". There are too many games. We need more teams. The season starts too early. The post-season should be longer. We should drop South Africa. We should add Argentina. The ELVs are terrible. The ELVs are fantastic. And then today… rugby is fucked.

The nine provinces that aren't a Super 14 franchise base, wrote a letter to the NZRU saying how they think the Super 14 is destroying the sport for everyone else and how it should all be run. The G9 (seriously that's what they're calling themselves) said that the future of the top flight provincial rugby (currently in the form of the Air New Zealand Cup) needed:

  • To be a meaningful competition (competitive)
  • Super rugby players to participate in fully
  • To televised (100 per cent)
  • To operate in clear window
  • To have a relevant salary cap that all participating provincial unions can afford to pay up to a minimum of 80 per cent
  • A review of the future NPC participation principles including the merits of maintaining the competition at the current 14 or adopting a three-tier structure with the possibility of promotion/relegation.

Jock Hobbs, naturally says that the G9 can go suck a lemon or at least that their "fears are misplaced". Does that mean they should actually be afraid of something else?

Personally I've given up trying to actively figure out what's wrong with the sport at the moment, but I do know that there is something wrong. How do I know? Because, like Dom, I'm just not interested in the game. I suspect that the same is true of you, Dear Reader (if indeed you were a fan of rugby to start with).

So far this Super 14 season I have attended three cricket matches and haven't watched a full Super 14 game on television. And really I should be involved because my Chiefs are doing really well and the Crusaders are doing poorly. And yet no one has complained in the comments about my lack of rugby coverage. So either you're all being very polite or the Super 14 just isn't on your radar.

I keep hearing the usual excited reporters that the Super 14 is as close as it's ever been. Is that true? I suppose the South African teams are doing well, and they need to with the British and Irish Lions on their way. How close are the teams really?

A while back I wrote about a report showing relative competitiveness of various sports tournaments around the world. The same guys who did that report recently sent me some more information but this time solely on the Super 14. They sent me through two graphs of their team lodeings, Long Term and Short Term.

Team Lodeings are an indication of how different team compare with one another. The ratings are between 0 and 1 – 0 being lowest, 1 being highest. Long Term ratings use the results from the last 14 rounds, whereas the short term ratings only use the last 7. That's why there is a lot more movement in the short term ratings.

LONG TERM (click to get full size image)

long term lodeing

SHORT TERM (click to get full size image)

short term lodeing
Both graphs: Bracewell, Paul J.; Forbes, Don G. R.; Jowett, Clint A.; and Kitson, Heath I. J. (2009) "Determining the Evenness of Domestic Sporting Competition Using a Generic Rating Engine," Journal of Quantitative Analysis in Sports: Vol. 5 : Iss. 1, Article 5. Available at:

The distance between teams is the relative strengths between them. So you can see that there is only a difference of 0.3 to 0.25 between to top team and the bottom team. From both graphs you can see that from Round Three to about Round Eight there is a lot of movement. You can also see that the Chiefs and the Highlanders are improving.

But all this data still isn't getting me all hot and bothered about the game. Even the bonus points screwing up the standings table can't get me interested.

Recently a rugby game I would not only get excited about but would love to see live – the New Zealand Maori versus the Springboks – has been sunk by a lack of sponsorship. Fucking recession. Instead we get the All Blacks playing Australia again. But this time it's in Tokyo! Maybe they'll play in crazy anime uniforms? [Note to possible sponsors: I promise to write only nice things about this game if you fly me to Tokyo].

As a quick aside, there is a suggestion to retroactively award test caps to Maori players who were denied the opportunity to tour South Africa during the apartheid era. Surprisingly I find myself against this idea.

Firstly you have to pick the players who would've made the team, then you have to assume they would've played all the games, would any records then have little asterisks and stuff. Basically it'd be a mess.

Moreover, and more importantly, there is more of a statement in the current record of those games. The fact that players like Waka Nathan and George Nepia aren't on the teams says more about the tour than any retrospective cap. Luckily Nathan agrees:

"To be quite honest I don't believe in that. You're either an All Black or you aren't. You're either a Maori All Black or not."

He remembers a tour of South Africa in 1967 falling over, and he was happy that it did. South African Prime Minister John Vorster set three conditions for Maori touring: There shouldn't be too many, they shouldn't be too black and no controversy should surround their "selection and dispatch".

Back to the Super 14.

Really the basics of the whole thing are that they need more fans and they need those fans to actually engage. The attendance at the Caketin for this year's Waratahs/Hurricanes match was 12,835, two years ago it was 25,290.

How do you do that? Please send all answers to the NZRU.

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