The composition of the Pro 14 conferences has lead to many debates with the balance between the 2 groups being a common topic for discussion. The early consensus seems to be that Conference A is stronger – but do the stats back that up?
There are a number of ways that the pools could have been organised and can now be compared. The most obvious would seem to be past performance in the shape of league placings or points won.
Taking the average final position of each of the Pro 12 sides for the last 3 seasons gives this analysis:
On this measure the teams continuing on from the Pro 12 in Conference A look to be a little bit stronger than those in Conference B with average of placings of 6.1 v 6.9 (the average for every team in the league would be 6.5)
Again taking the average across the last 3 seasons – but this time taking the league points won by each side:
On this measure also Conference A comes out stronger than B, with around 9.5% more points.
The Top 6:
There’s one crucial element that the analysis above doesn’t really capture. From the 2011/12 season until the final Pro 12 campaign in 2016/17 the top 6 has been made up of the same teams on every single occasion bar one – Connacht’s run to the title in in 2015/16 has been the solitary break in the hegemony enjoyed by:
35 out of the 36 available top 6 placings being taken by these teams.
Once the decision was taken to split the teams on an even geographic basis with the Welsh and Irish sides seeded there was only one real decision left to be taken. Where to place Glasgow in order to achieve an even division of those top 6 teams from last year that have dominated the Pro 12.
Whatever way the analysis is done Conference A is slightly stronger. It’s nothing as to how lopsided the pools would have been if Glasgow and Edinburgh had been swapped though, leaving 4 top 6 sides in one group and just 2 in the other. Placing the stronger of the South African sides (the Kings) in Conference B also helps to reduce the differential somewhat.
Ultimately it won’t be possible to truly assess the equity of the structure until the new system has had a chance to play out and lesser known factors such as the relative strengths of the South African sides can be assessed.