Super Rugby is the top-level southern hemisphere club tournament, featuring franchise teams from New Zealand, South Africa and Australia.
The Super 14's development began in 1996 with the inaugural Super 10 tournament with the title contested by Waikato, Auckland, Otago and North Harbour from New Zealand, Natal Sharks, Transvaal and Northern Transvaal from South Africa, Queensland and New South Wales from Australia and the Samoan national team.
The Super 10 ran for three seasons before being expanded to the Super 12 with the advent of professionalism in 1995. As a result franchise sides from New Zealand, South Africa and Australia were formed - the Crusaders, Blues, Hurricance, Chiefs and Highlanders from New Zealand, the Bulls, Sharks, Cats and Stormers from South Africa and the Reds, Waratahs and Brumbies from Australia.
The Super 12 continued to grow in popularity until 2004, when it was announced that a fourth Australian team, Western Force, and a fifth South African team, the Cheetahs, would join the league as it was expanded to the Super 14 model.
The Super 14 model was expanded again with another Australian franchise, Melbourne Rebels, added for the 2011 season. The competition was re-branded Super Rugby, played in three conferences, the Australian Conference, New Zealand Conference and South African Conference.
Each team plays the others in their own conference twice in a series of home-and-away derbies while also facing four sides from the opposing conferences. The top side from each conference is guaranteed a finals place, with the three teams with the next highest points tally granted wildcards.
The expanded finals series of six sides sees the two conference winners with the highest points given a week off, while the third-placed conference winner faces a sudden-death play-off with the sixth-placed team. The fourth- and fifth-placed sides also play off, with the winners going on to face the first- and second-placed teams in the semi-finals.
The semi-finals see the first-placed team from the regular season play the lowest-ranked side to make it through the first play-off round, while the second-placed team from the regular season plays the highest-ranked side to get through the play-offs. The final is then played out between the winners of the semi-finals with home ground advantage given to the side that finished higher on the overall table during the regular season.
Previously in Super 14, at the end of the regular season the top four placed teams went into a knockout competition with the top two sides claiming home advantage in the semi-finals. The highest-place finisher in the regular season then played host to the final.
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