Super 15 outcome swings on format
THE Chiefs were deserved winners of this year's Super rugby title, but the tournament's one-sided final points, mainly, to the lop-sided structure of the competition.
The Sharks management and players refused to use the exhaustive travel factor as an excuse for the 37-6 drubbing because they had no choice but to stomach it.
However, the ridiculous schedule was exactly the reason the match was so ill-balanced that it was boring to anyone but a Chiefs fan.
Where is the joy in watching celebrated Springbok players virtually sleep-walk through what is supposed to be one of the biggest games of their careers?
Travelling nearly 35000km in 16 days across 30-odd time zones made the outcome of the match a foregone conclusion.
If Super rugby wants its so-called "final" to resemble that mess every year, then the sooner SA finds an alternative competition the better.
A respected English rugby scribe was asked whether he would be watching the final and he replied that even if it were played in his back yard, he would draw the curtains.
That riled most southern hemisphere observers but he was spot on. A final should be a contest between two evenly matched sides in circumstances that are as close to balanced as possible.
On paper the sides were well-matched, but the sheer mental and physical toll the travel schedule took on the Sharks meant that they were a few percent worse off than the Chiefs. That's all it took for the New Zealanders to run riot, in a similar way to how they suffered at the hands of the Bulls in the 2009 final when they lost 61-17. The margins are similar.
The Sharks started with a huge deficit and after 15 minutes of token resistance they started falling off tackles, and with so much front-foot ball the Chiefs were unstoppable.
Make no mistake, the Chiefs were the best team in this year's tournament and worthy winners of the title. They topped the New Zealand standings and were second on the overall standings behind the Stormers.
The Chiefs played electric rugby when needed, had some of the best individuals in the tournament such as flyhalf Aaron Cruden, prop Sona Taumalolo and centre Sonny Bill Williams, and a superb game plan that they executed effectively. They set the standard and no one can quibble that they won.
The Chiefs were switched on and produced a professional display when it mattered, but they could have been below their best and still waltzed to victory. They don't make up the rules but they benefited from them.
"When you sacrifice a lot of your preparation for recovery this can happen," Sharks coach John Plumtree said diplomatically. "What they threw at us we just couldn't respond to.
"It was a bridge too far for us. It would be naïve to say the travel didn't take some sort of toll but we expected more from ourselves. They [Sanzar] need to look at it [the competition format]."
The only answer, under the current constraints, is to do away with one of the byes during the regular season and place an extra week between the semi-final and the final.
That way the team needing to travel will have an extra seven days to acclimatise. The home side will always have an advantage, which is as it should be, but at least their opponents will arrive in the best possible mental and physical condition.