Planet Rugby

The impossible road trip

18th July 2014 10:47

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Bryan Habana scoring for Bulls in 2007 Super Rugby Final

2007 in Durban: Only year in the past decade when a visiting team has won the Super Rugby Final

Four sides will battle it out this week to stay on track to make the Super Rugby Final, but are their chances over before the games have begun?

The numbers don't lie. Since 2004, when it comes to play-off time, results have bordered on being predictable more than full of twists and shocks.

So without Friday rugby we sat and dusted off the record books in the Planet Rugby basement to see the pattern of results over the last decade.

It brought about some interesting facts; the first being that no team has won the title after finishing outside the top two after the league. Now in the 2004-2011 format that would surely have changed at some point, but since the added Wildcard round, questions surface over its credibility.

Sharks boss Jake White rounded on this in his column for The Citizen, asking: "Why play these matches at all if they have little or no chance of making it through to the final?" which is a fair point. Really, and no disrespect to them, but with the tough travel factor is anyone backing the Highlanders to win (again) in Durban, catch a long back to Sydney to beat the 'Tahs and then fully recover to also triumph in an away final?

Therein lies the question of can any team finishing outside the top two, in a day and age where home advantage is so vital, actually win the trophy? Again the numbers highlight the difficulties facing the likes of the Chiefs and Highlanders, given that in 36 play-off matches in the last decade only five have been won by the away side. That's an 86 percent success rate for the hosts, while 8 out of 10 sides who finished as league winners went on to win the title, with only the Bulls winning a final on the road, albeit not far from home, at the Sharks.

White added: "If this (Saturday's games between third to sixth in the standings) is purely a money-making device, surely it would be preferable for the teams that finish one and two to go straight to a final. They could play home and away so they would both have to travel."

But as the former Springbok coach touched upon, this extra round is of course a money spinner for the competition. Yet with the glass half full, why shouldn't those franchises who finished in fifth and sixth place have a crack at what on paper is looking like the impossible. Naturally the Chiefs, Highlanders and also the Sharks and Brumbies will travel into this weekend full of optimism, but history and statistics are very much against them.

Super Rugby play-offs since 2004

2004: Three home wins in knockouts - Brumbies won title after finishing top of table
2005: Three home wins in knockouts - Crusaders won title after finishing top of table
2006: Three home wins in knockouts - Crusaders won title after finishing top of table
2007: Two home wins, one away in knockouts - Bulls won title after finishing second
2008: Three home wins - Crusaders won title after finishing top in regular-season
2009: Three home wins - Bulls won title after finishing top in regular-season
2010: Three home wins - Bulls won title after finishing top in regular-season

2011 (new format): Four home wins, one away - Reds won title after finishing top of table
2012: Three home wins, two away - Chiefs won title after finishing second but hosted final
2013: Four home wins, one away - Chiefs won title after finishing top in regular-season

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