WELLINGTON • Super Rugby's organiser defended the finals format of the tournament yesterday, after complaints that in-form New Zealand sides were getting a raw deal.
Based purely on results going into the final round, New Zealand teams occupy four of the five top spots and three of them would expect to host quarter-finals.
But Super 18's complicated system guarantees 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 the home advantage to sides who they have outperformed during the season.
Ahead of the final weekend of the regular season, the top five spots in terms of total points are held by the Lions (52), Waikato Chiefs (51), Canterbury Crusaders (50), Otago Highlanders and Wellington Hurricanes (both 48).
Under the new system, however, the Crusaders are ranked fifth, Highlanders sixth and Hurricanes seventh, while South Africa's Stormers are third (46) and Australia's ACT Brumbies fourth (39) based on being the top teams in the conference.
Sanzar 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.
"Sanzar 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.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS