Aaron Cruden and the Chiefs are leading the way for New Zealand. Photosport/Jason O'Brien/INPHO
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Super Rugby reject Kiwi complaints that they should have more home play-offs

Four of the five New Zealand sides are leading the way in the standings, but the conference system gives other teams a chance to host knockout games.

SUPER RUGBY ORGANISERS defended their tournament’s finals format today after complaints that in-form New Zealand sides were receiving a raw deal.

Based purely on results going into the final round, New Zealand teams occupy four of the five top spots on the ladder and three of them would expect to host quarter-finals.

However, the now 18-strong competition runs on a system guaranteeing each of the four conference winners a home finals berth, meaning only one Kiwi team will play host in the last eight.

The other three will have to travel overseas and concede home advantage to sides which they have outperformed during the season.

Sanzaar chief executive Andy Marinos rejected any criticism, saying New Zealand teams were receiving “due reward” for their exceptional form by receiving four of the eight play-off berths, regardless of venue.

“Sanzaar stands by the existing qualification process,” he said in a statement.

“A tournament’s qualification criteria cannot be determined on one year’s results in isolation.”

Even New Zealand Rugby boss Steve Tew, who signed off on the format for an expanded 18-team competition this year, has branded the system “unfair”.

Tew admitted the system was not ideal but said it was driven by the need to have finals in the sprawling competition’s main television markets — South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.

Four continents

“At the end of the day, it’s not as complicated as it sounds but frankly it’s just not fair, that’s the problem we’ve got,” he told Radio Sport on Sunday.

“But there needed to be a final in every TV market or else the value we would have got for our content was seriously reduced.”

Super Rugby introduced teams from Argentina and Japan this year, making it an 18-team competition that straddles 16 time zones and four continents. But critics have complained of the lacklustre standard of games, lopsided contests, exhausting travel schedules and a fragmented conference system watched by smaller crowds.

This weekend’s final round of regular season fixtures see the New Zealand conference-leading Chiefs take on the Highlanders who are just three points behind. Second place Crusaders host the Hurricanes who are level on points with the men from Otago.

The Blues are the only Kiwi side not in contention for the conference, but with the Waratahs in Auckland, they can scupper the Sydney side’s chance of topping the Australian conference ahead of the Brumbies.

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