There's no place like home for Super Rugby Pacific teams in the tournament's 5th round

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — Results in the fifth round of Super Rugby Pacific again have highlighted the value of home advantage not just in the playoffs but during the regular season.

All six teams playing at home won their matches in the fifth round, and two of those wins, by the Fijian Drua over the New South Wales Waratahs and by the Western Force over the Queensland Reds, were considerable upsets.

The evidence for home-ground advantage could be said to be negated by results from the fourth round of the tournament in which only one team playing at home, the Hamilton, New Zealand-based Chiefs, was victorious.

But the long view confirms that home advantage is a major factor in Super Rugby Pacific and has been through Super Rugby’s various incarnations.

Six of the 12 teams in the competition are unbeaten at home this season, including the Chiefs who are four from four after five rounds. The Christchurch-based Crusaders and New South Wales Waratahs are the only teams not to have won at home so far; both are 0-2 a third of the way through the regular season.

Stepping back to look at Super Rugby Pacific from its inception, the average win rate for teams playing at home is just over 59%. Of the 12 teams in the competition, only four have negative win rates at home — less than 50%.

The teams atop that ledger are the ACT Brumbies who have 83.3% win rate at home since Super Rugby Pacific began. The Auckland-based Blues win 80% of home matches, the Chiefs 77%, and the Wellington-based Hurricanes 76%. The Crusaders, who were champions in the first two years of the competition, are at 75%.

Stretching the viewpoint back even further, over the last 10 years of Super Rugby in its various forms, the home win rate remains steady at around 60% with the Crusaders performing best with an 82% success rate in home matches in Christchurch.

The Hurricanes have an 80% win rate at their home stadiums, including Palmerston North where they beat the Melbourne Rebels on Friday. The Brumbies again are high on the list with a 72% win rate in Canberra.

Teams with those rates of home success can be said to have made their home stadiums a fortress, a daunting challenge for visiting teams.

One of the emerging fortresses in Super Rugby is Churchill Park in Lautoka at which the Fijian Drua have won twice this year and four times over the past two years. The stadium provides challenges to visiting teams because of extreme heat and humidity, often wet conditions and a raucous home crowd.

The crowd has become an ace in the hole for the Drua, urging the team to greater effort. The Drua fans are colorful, loud, unquestioningly supportive but also fair and welcoming to visiting teams.

On Saturday they watched as the Drua conceded the first tries of both halves, took leads of 26-10 in the first half and 33-17 in the second before the Waratahs with strong bench impact rallied to level the score at 36-36 at fulltime.

Fans then endured almost nine minutes of golden point extra time before Kemu Valetini won the match for the Drua with a dropped goal which launched jubilant celebrations.

The support is well-deserved — Drua head coach Mick Byrne lives in Lautoka, is deeply immersed in the local community and the Drua players put in a considerable amount of time in junior coaching and other community activities.

“We are the people’s team and will continue to do as much as we can within the community,” Byrne said. “Our players are out there every week at schools.

“We will continue to do that because we owe it to our people.”


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