Some things just can’t be fixed.

Anything bought from a dollar store, for instance. Your toddler’s favourite toy that they’ve launched down the stairs knowing full well (but incorrectly) that if anything goes wrong daddy will fix it. And the Super Rugby playoff system. Broken, irrevocably.

Super Rugby is ridden with structural weaknesses – too many crap teams, mismatched time zones, an incomprehensible pool structure and a lack of French referees, to name but a few.

But by far the biggest frailty of the Southern Hemisphere showpiece is its deeply unsatisfying finals system.

In any competition, the playoffs must be – and almost universally are – the most exciting stanza of the season.

Finals are where dreams are realised and crushed. Where fortune swings on a knife edge. Where the brave are rewarded and the meek slink back into the earth, forced to endure another year, another season, another brutal campaign just in the hope of returning once again to the promised land of a shot at glory.

The unbearable anticipation of a big finals match should literally kill people – or at the very least create an angina scare or two.

Super Rugby’s finals are greeted not with heart palpitations but bafflement.

“C’mon on boys let’s do this” is instead “Um, so what’s going on again?”

Calculating your team’s potential pathway to a championship should be one of the joys of fandom. With Super Rugby, many of us go straight from “so we came second in our conference on 55 points, which means we rank below the Brumbies on 33 points and the Stormers get home advantage because Cape Town has a cool mountain” to “ah, shit, I’ll just wait until they put the fixture list on the telly”.

The headline run by the Otago Daily Times on an article explaining how it all panned out in 2017 was instructive: ‘Super Rugby playoffs revealed’.

Finals matches should be ‘confirmed’ or ‘scheduled’, not revealed like they’ve been summoned from a parallel plane by David Copperfield.

But revealed they were: the ODT was spot on.

Then there’s the issue of just what was revealed. By god, put it away sir – no one wants to see that.

Forget about the Brumbies having home advantage over the Hurricanes. It won’t matter.

The finals remain a crumpled afterthought, sitting broken at the bottom of the stairs while we curious toddlers look on in bemusement.

But the Lions having home advantage for a potential final is just plain wrong. Yes, the Crusaders dropped the ball by losing their final regular season match to the Hurricanes. But the Crusaders put together an otherwise unblemished campaign while enduring eight high intensity derbies against their Kiwi conference rivals. The Lions, by contrast, didn’t face a single New Zealand team, instead surviving regular outings against the Kings, Force, Jaguares, Sunwolves, Rebels and Cheetahs.

The only way they could have had a softer schedule would have involved home and away fixtures with blancmange and trifle.

That’s not to decry the resurgence of the Lions. For most of their existence they would have lost heavily to blancmange. So well done them. They can only play what’s in front of them. To win it from here they’ll likely have to beat the Sharks, Hurricanes and Crusaders, so the cakewalk is well and truly over.

But that brings us to the next structural weakness – those crucial matches will likely take place at a time in New Zealand when only insomniacs and Uber drivers are awake.

If a great Hurricane blows through Highveld at 3.00am does anyone actually give a toss?

About the best thing to be said for the Super Rugby finals format shemozzle is that it saves the losers from suffering too much. Winners are always the only grinners in sporting playoffs, but in Super Rugby, only hardest of the hardcore fans will shed a tear when their team is eliminated. The rest of us will still be trying to figure out the draw.

Sadly, this situation can’t be fixed. I know this because it was roughly a decade ago I received a phone call from SKY TV chief executive John Fellett. I’d written a column in the NZ Herald complaining about the unsatisfactory nature of the finals format employed in our rugby competitions; how lengthy seasons were reduced to insipid lotteries and that SKY, as the broadcast rights holder, should use its not inconsiderable influence to demand a more compelling product for its audience.

Fellett politely but firmly pointed out that, while SKY wasn’t blind to the fact there were issues with the finals structure, it was well and truly beyond its power to drive meaningful change.

Everyone – administrators, players, fans, broadcasters, caterers and carpark staff – was prisoner to the rugby calendar. And that calendar had no room for an expanded finals format.

A decade on, Super Rugby has expanded its footing on the calendar, swallowing the NPC to make room for expansion that now needs to be swiftly contracted. We’ve got an 18-team competition that starts in February and ends in August – in utter confusion.

The finals remain a crumpled afterthought, sitting broken at the bottom of the stairs while we curious toddlers look on in bemusement.

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