Sharks are victims of a flawed format

MARK KEOHANE, in his weekly Business Day column, says Saturday’s Super Rugby final will be a farce instead of a real contest the tournament deserves.

Can the Sharks win in Hamilton and claim a first Super Rugby title?

Of course they can.

Are they good enough, individually and as a unit, to beat the home team?

Of course they are.

Will they win it?

Never.

The competition structure in Super Rugby finals has always been flawed because of the need to cram as much as possible into the year calendar, make the various administrations as much money as possible and give the broadcaster as much product as is possible.

A final should be about a contest and the definition of a contest is that the winner should not be predetermined.

Finals in which one team travels more than 19,300km and is given one training run before the season climax are finals only in name.

You play at home, you win. You play away, you lose. Occasionally a very good side wins away from home in another country in Super Rugby. In the history of the tournament, this was the exclusive right of a very talented and special Crusaders squad.

Officials argue that this is to reward consistency and the team placing top of the league gets all the play-off advantages. Cool, then why have a final? Win the league and you should be the champions.

The moment a play-off structure was introduced, which guaranteed each of the three Sanzar countries a play-off spot, it nullified any justification of rewarding league form.

Australia is the weakest conference. The Reds would have placed sixth on league strength. They won the Australian conference and got third on the overall league.

It is all a lie. From the outset, league form is not rewarded.

There should be three titles: a trophy and cash for the respective conference winner. It is a reward. It is an achievement. You, for example the Stormers, are the best South African team in the conference.

Then there’s the overall league winner and a very huge cash incentive and a big trophy. You are consistently the best team of the season, for example, the Stormers this year.

Now, your winners get a heads-up in the six-team play-offs, which is another tournament within a tournament. The heads-up is you get to host a play-off match which puts you in a position to play in the final, which is at a neutral venue and whose only purpose is revenue for the two respective teams and the competition organisers.

And there is a fortnight break between the play-off and the final. Then you have a tournament, in which there is merit, there is reward and there is logic.

Why have a climax to a tournament in which the format determines the winner? We play at home, we win. We play away, we lose. Why bother?

I have heard all the crazy arguments that if a team is that good they win anywhere. Crap.

The Crusaders’ campaign a year ago had a Hollywood script but a real ending, not that which sells to a dummy audience.

The same applies this coming Saturday. The Chiefs have to win because they are rested, at home and well prepared. The Sharks, in Brisbane a fortnight ago, in Cape Town last week and in Hamilton this weekend, have spent more time travelling than on the field.

Greed is the only motivator of the current system. There is no reward to any player, team or supporter.

Invariably the losing team in the final is lambasted by a disappointed supporter, and before there is time for proper analysis it all gets repeated in a league format at a national level.

Why no final here? The draw again influences the final standings.

The Sharks have confirmed their class in beating the Stormers. They were good enough. And they got the result. The Stormers, given the class of player, overachieved in winning the league and hosting a semi-final through consistently winning and they did not choke. A choke is when there is no way a team should lose. There was always a chance that they could lose because of the limitations within the available match 22 and the lack of try-scoring potency in the game plan.

The Chiefs, in New Zealand, were deserving winners and a Crusaders’ victory would merely have added to the illusion of the brilliance of a Crusaders team that relies on the extraordinary talents of Richie McCaw and Dan Carter and a historical dominance that has long not been a reflection of their rugby in the tournament.

The seven-times tournament champions have now lost five successive semi-finals and that is more relevant than the seven titles won by another generation.

We play at home, we win. You play at home, you win.

If it works for you, cool, but then add a bit of perspective to the illusion and see the tournament as a money spinner and not a representation of a team’s ability.

Both semi-finals were great value for New Zealand and SA respectively. Both national squads will be strong. Both will teams be extremely difficult to beat at home.

Don’t confuse national with regional and provincial. No bloke in Canterbury wants the Chiefs to beat the Sharks because the latter are South African. On the contrary. The same applies here. Unite behind the Sharks? Tell that to the Bulls and Lions supporters, as just two examples. Unite behind the Boks yes, but the Sharks are not a representation of Cape Town or Johannesburg.

National is national. Provincial is provincial. League is league. Knockout is knockout. Cash is all that motivates the administration. If it was about the contest, they wouldn’t force one team to spend 48 hours travelling across the world and then make them play 48 hours after touchdown.

The Sharks and Chiefs are bloody good sides. There is little between the two. It should be the dream final.

Instead it is a farce. It was when the Chiefs travelled to Pretoria a few years ago.

Can the Sharks win?

Of course they can.

Will they win?

They’ve won already if you are judging their rugby.