A Look At The Derby System In The New PRO14 Structure
Leaving aside form, particularly of the Southern Kings, the conference structure for the new PRO14 seems to be ticking along fine.
At the weekend in Dublin you’d be forgiven for thinking nothing had changed-Leinster played Munster in the Aviva as usual and they’ll meet again in Limerick on Stephen’s Day.
But things aren’t the same. It’s just that the tent pole fixtures, the national derby games, have been protected in the new regime. The Irish teams all play each other home and away as normal, no matter which conference they are in. Same for the four Welsh sides.
4 into 2 doesn’t go.
That’s well and good for Ireland and Wales, with their four teams, but Scotland, South Africa and Italy only have two teams each in the competition. Logically this means when these countries have their weekend derbies they have less games than the Irish or Welsh.
So to make it fair, in game time at least, these teams are to play each other three times. A mathematical neatness that leads to obvious questions about whether all derby fixtures are created equal.
There’s no way the new PRO14 structure could be completely fair. So the question is whether or not it’s completely unfair.
Take for example conference A, where the derby games mean the following fixtures, amongst others:
Munster’s two extra derby games are against Leinster and Ulster.
Glasgow’s two extra derby games are against just Edinburgh.
Cheetahs two are against the Southern Kings.
And in conference B:
Leinster’s two extra derby games are against Munster and Connacht.
Scarlets two extra games are against Cardiff and Ospreys.
Benetton’s extra two are against Zebre.
Now, depending where you’re from, you’ll have different opinions on who does the best out of these fixtures. Leinster and Munster would claim their derby is the toughest. But Welsh derbies are traditionally very competitive. And though Glasgow have certainly been the form Scottish side the last few years, the derbies with Edinburgh have been very tight affairs that have gone both ways.
What’s this about teams playing three times?
Well, the derbies are distinct from the normal run of things. Each team in the Pro 14 will play each other at least once, and the derbies are in addition to that. So, for example, Benetton will play Zebre once, like everyone else in conference B, but then play them twice more as part of the derby system. That should be good news for the superior Italian side, Zebre’s performances against Ulster notwithstanding.
Cheetahs should do well from this system too. Getting to play Southern Kings three times is a nice cushion of points when chasing Munster and Glasgow. Certainly Munster would take two fixtures with the Kings over their extra games against Leinster and Ulster. And though Benetton could have a bumper season of points by their standards, it’s likely that the Cheetahs will be the talked about team at the end of the season. Especially if their points from derbies help them catch Munster and Glasgow or deny Connacht or Cardiff.