Australia will field just one team in the Super Rugby finals for the third straight season, but NSW backs coach Chris Malone says increased depth shows teams are moving in the right direction.
And the numbers from the just-completed regular season back up the argument, with Australian sides this year posting the highest collective win percentage since the 2014 season.
The Waratahs will be the only side in the finals, after the Brumbies flew the flag for the Aussies the past two seasons, while New Zealand has four teams in the playoffs and the South African conference has three.
Despite the lopsided finishes, Malone said the signs were positive for Australian rugby.
“Obviously it would have been nice to have a couple of teams get in but I think there’s definitely been an upbeat there with having four Australian sides,” he said.
“I think we’ve been able to compete more. This is the first year it’s been like that so I think the depth of Australian rugby ranks only gets better over the course of the next couple of years.
“Based on last year, I would think Australian rugby has done better in terms of results so far.
“Obviously, still it’s not where we want to be but I think we’re heading in the right direction.”
The numbers back up Malone’s observations, with every Australian team bringing better returns than in 2017.
Collectively, the Aussie teams won 29 of a possible 64 games - for a win percentage of 45.3%.
That's dramatically up from the dismal return of 27% from the five Australian teams who played last year.
Though the returns against New Zealand sides only marginally rose - three regular season wins from 20 games compared to 0 wins from 25 - the Australian sides lifted their success rate against overseas rivals considerably.
Winning 17 of 40 games, the Aussie return against overseas teams went from a paltry 12% last year to 42.5% this year and was also the highest since 2014.
The Rebels fell just points difference short of a maiden finals berth, with a Sharks win over the Jaguares pushing the Durban side into the last playoff spot.
Despite missing the finals, the Rebels turned in their equal-most successful season in history, with seven wins matching their 2015 and 2016 returns.
Last year, they managed just one win and a draw and finished last on the overall Super Rugby log.
The Waratahs more than doubled their win tally this season, after suffering their worst return in history in 2017, winning the conference and finishing third in the final ladder.
The Reds’ six wins was their best win-loss record since 2013 and the Brumbies matched their 2017 competition points tally but were overtaken by the Rebels and Waratahs in the standings.
Every team improved their try-scoring numbers in 2018, though the Brumbies and Reds’ defensive records took a hit year on year, with the ACT letting in 52 tries compared to 32 last year and the Reds conceding 66 compared to 61 in 2017.
More Australian derbies and the inclusion of the Sunwolves in the Australian conference somewhat skews these statistics, but Australian teams improved outside of their own conference as well.
The Waratahs and Brumbies both took points away from South African tours and NSW broke a two-year drought against Kiwi teams with a win against the Highlanders.
Only the Reds finished 2018 without a win over a New Zealand team, and all four finished with victories over teams in the South African conference.
No team won the majority of their seven cross-conference games but the Brumbies and Reds won three of those seven and the Waratahs took two wins and a draw.
Those three wins from 20 trans-Tasman matches is the best haul for Aussies since 2015 and a 42.5 per cent win rate over overseas opponents up from 12 per cent in 2017 and the best rate since 2014.
The Waratahs’ next challenge will be to take the Australian teams into the final four for the first time since 2015, with a quarter-final showdown against the Highlanders next weekend.
2017 vs 2018
Average win rate
Aussies vs overseas
Australian teams vs New Zealand teams
2017: 0 wins from 27 matches
2018: 3 wins from 20 matches
Australian teams 2017
1. Brumbies - 34pts, 6 wins, 9 losses - 4th overall
2. Force - 26pts, 6 wins, 9 losses - 12th
3. Reds - 21 pts, 4 wins, 11 losses - 14th
4. Waratahs - 19pts, 4 wins, 11 losses - 16th
5. Rebels - 9pts, 1 win, 1 draw, 13 losses - 18th
Australian teams 2018
1. Waratahs - 44pts, 9 wins, 1 draw, 6 losses - 3rd overall
2. Rebels - 36pts, 7 wins, 9 losses - 9th
3. Brumbies - 34pts, 7 wins, 9 losses - 10th
4. Reds - 28pts, 6 wins, 10 losses - 13th