The 2011 Super Rugby competition was the first time Super Rugby had been played with 15 teams. Super Rugby has always been played between teams from New Zealand, South Africa and Australia. Australia’s Melbourne Rebels came together in 2011, marking the first time that the same number of teams have come from each country. 2011 was also the first time Super Rugby was used in a conference format. The five teams from each country formed a conference where each team met twice. Each team also played four teams from each of the other two conferences.
One of the criticisms of the new Super Rugby format is the fact that not all teams play each other. Two of Australia’s teams in particular, the Western Force and the Melbourne Rebels, are considered to be two of the weakest teams in the competition. The injustice is that all Australian teams can play those two weaker opponents twice and probably get maximum points. However, some of the teams in the other two conferences won’t be able to pay those weaker teams anything. The Crusaders, for example, were unable to play the Rebels, who lost to every other New Zealand team. That handicap, not to mention earthquakes disrupting them and dooming their homeland, was not enough to stop the Crusaders, who were still leading the New Zealand conference.
In the final cleanup of the 2011 Super Rugby tournament there were two teams from each conference that reached the final. The Queensland Reds made it to the top of the ladder, led by star halves pairing Quade Cooper and Will Genia. The South African Stormers took second place with a strong defense-oriented game. Both teams earned a bye in the first week of the final and a guaranteed semi-final at home. While no New Zealand team made it to the top two of the table after the round robin, New Zealand arguably had the most successful tournament. His lowest-ranked team, the Chiefs, were 11th. This means that all of their teams were ranked eleventh onwards and the lowest four places were taken by teams from Australia and South Africa. New Zealand also hosted both quarter-finals. However, if victories are the fate of the table standings, these could be the last Super Rugby games in New Zealand this year. Not that this means much to their fans, as the Blues’ home ground, Eden Park, was only a quarter full for their first finals match since 2003. Perhaps New Zealand rugby union fans are saving themselves for the World Cup later this year.
Completing the last six of the Super Rugby tournament were the Waratahs and the Sharks. The Waratahs limped into the final completely decimated by injuries. One of the tournament’s stars, Kurtley Beale, was forced into the air half for the quarter-finals and their tireless leader, retiring Phil Waugh, seemed to have played most of the tournament on one leg. The Sharks had a rematch of their Twickenham match against the Crusaders. However, they will have to overcome even more travel problems to reverse the beating they took in Europe.