There has been much discussion around travel and the effect it has on professional sports teams. Sports Scientist Dr Ross Tucker takes a look at the different theories surrounding the 'home-ground' advantage.
Super 15 - an extreme model to study home-ground advantage
The Super 15, for those not in the rugby loop, is a tournament played between professional teams from South Africa, New Zealand and Australia. It is nearing its conclusion and is into the playoff phase.
The vast distances that are required, as well as the altitude for some teams in South Africa, make it a really great model to study home-ground advantage. In fact, I'd go so far as to say it's unique in this regard, in that it has extreme travel (10 time zones a trip) and large changes in altitude (0m to 1600m) on a weekly basis.
Of course, travel is only part of the home-ground debate, but for the Sharks rugby team, it was the big one - they decided to leave South Africa on the Tuesday, four days before the match, and so arrived, 10 time zones to the east, with only two days before a huge match.
The question then was whether it would be possible for the players to recover and perform optimally?
What wasn't quoted in the article was that I was of the opinion that the match would be very competitive for the first 30 to 40 minutes and then the scoreline would blow out.
The Sharks probably needed to be 10 points ahead with 20 minutes to play, because fatigue would influence performance more later, whereas motivation would "hide" it for a while, before it eventually told. That fits with what eventually happened - it was competitive half-way, and the big defeat was inflicted in the second half.
Travel fatigue for visiting teams
Familiarity with the city, the facilities, the playing arena
Crowd factors, which can be further broken down into:
How the crowd influence the players
How the crowd influence the referee/officials