Since the introduction of the conference system in the PRO14 one of the (many) discussion points has centred around the impact it has on how strong each team’s schedule is. Conference A and Conference B sides only meet once a season – but this is topped up by derby matches against teams from the same nation. Ultimately everyone has their own unique set of matches to play.
So how best to measure this? Well a reasonable starting point for comparison would seem to be the traditional home and away schedule. Unavailable to the PRO14 because they don’t want to play a 26-week regular season – the way the Top 14 do – home and away is often considered to be the gold standard when it comes to creating a fair schedule. It does come with it’s own little quirks though. The teams at the bottom will have a harder itinerary than the teams at the top because, for instance, if you are Zebre you have to play two games against Leinster whereas the Dubliners cannot play themselves (although given the size of their squad maybe they could…) and instead get two games against a team who generally collect around 75% less points – Zebre.
So when looking at the Home & Away schedule if the points collected by each side’s opponents are averaged out the teams at the bottom will have a slightly harder run than the teams at the top. Taking that 26-game mark and apportioning it allows us to see what the equivalent for a comparable 21-game season would look like.
The Conference strength of schedule takes a little bit more working out as fixtures are completely non-standard and the impact of playing a side home or away (rather than both) definitely has an effect. Ultimately though if we take the match points per fixture gathered by each team in the league from their home games and do the same for their away ones and then apply that to each schedule we can get a measure of how difficult each team has had it this season based on how their opponents have performed.
Glasgow collected 47 points from 11 home games so anyone facing them at Scotstoun has 4.3 points added to their strength of schedule.
Zebre collected 1 point from 10 away games so anyone hosting the Italian side has 0.1 points added to their strength of schedule.
Rinse and repeat for everyone a club plays against, add them together and you get a measure of how strong that team’s opponents were – their strength of schedule.
If we start with each side’s theoretical Home & Away schedule and then compare it to their actual Conference schedule we can get a picture of the teams that have it harder or easier in these two formats.
Munster definitely have it toughest. Along with Connacht they have to play all 3 other Irish teams twice and face off against Glasgow home and away. Zebre, Edinburgh and the Kings both have more difficult schedules due to their facing a higher-ranked team from their own nation three times a season.
On the other side Benetton are the big winners with Zebre not having progressed at the same rate as their fellow Italians. Scarlets couldn’t take advantage of having a slightly easier schedule. Glasgow would probably raise to the fact that they took 0 points from both their festive games against Edinburgh (the only occasions that happened to the Warriors in the league this season) as evidence that playing Edinburgh three times giving them an advantage only works as a theoretical concept and not in reality!