A lack of belief and composure has been at the root of South African rugby’s six-straight defeats in Australasia this season, writes JON CARDINELLI.
Joe Schmidt’s Ireland has achieved a great deal. They’re the only Irish side in history to win a Test in South Africa. They’re the only Irish side to beat the All Blacks.
Prior to the recent match at Twickenham, Schmidt’s Ireland had beaten all of the tier-one heavyweights, including England. The triumph in London on Saturday marked Ireland’s 12th-consecutive win.
The British & Irish Lions beat the All Blacks last year, and in doing so became the first Test side to down New Zealand at home in eight years. Irish and English players dominated the team that achieved that victory, as well as the 1-1 series result.
The bottom line? These players have enjoyed success home and away, and have every reason to believe that they can go to the next World Cup and knock over the southern hemisphere’s big three.
The Springboks are at the other end of the scale in terms of belief and results. Under Allister Coetzee, they lost five out of seven Tests in the northern hemisphere while also failing to win a single Rugby Championship match in Australasia.
That said, the Boks have been battling Down Under for some time, with their last win in Australia coming in 2013, and you have to go back to 2009 for a victory in New Zealand.
Those results in Australasia should not surprise when one considers how poorly most of the Super Rugby teams have fared in that part of the world in recent times. The Bulls lost in Hamilton last Friday to extend the South African collective’s losing streak in New Zealand to 13 matches. The Sharks went down to the Brumbies in Canberra on Saturday, giving South African teams their sixth-straight defeat Down Under in 2018.
Blues coach Tana Umaga commended the Stormers for showing plenty of attitude in the hosts’ 37-20 win at Newlands on Saturday. Umaga said that the Stormers were the hungrier of the two teams, and that their belief and composure shone through when the visitors attempted to hit back in the later stages.
It was some statement. The Stormers shrugged off their injury problems to deliver one of their most physical and defensively sound performances of the past two seasons. Damian de Allende was but one of the players who was down with flu in the buildup. The centre showed no signs of strain at Newlands, though, and ran through the formidable form of Sonny Bill Williams on two occasions.
Robbie Fleck lauded his charges for their courage and tenacity. To be fair, a 17-point win against a side stacked with All Blacks is nothing to sneer at.
Fleck was less than comfortable with the question about consistency. Why can’t the Stormers, and indeed every South African side, put these well-rounded performances together on a weekly basis? Where was the hunger to dominate the collisions, to get back into line on defence, and to stand up and be counted in the final 20 minutes of the contest when the Stormers played the Waratahs, Crusaders, and Highlanders in Australasia?
Fleck didn’t have an answer. Going by the recent performances of the Stormers, Bulls, and Sharks in Australasia, and indeed the results of the past few years, South African coaches are still battling to crack this code. The last time a local side won in New Zealand was when the Sharks beat the Blues in Auckland back in April 2016.
The Sharks forwards went through the motions in Canberra last Saturday. Unless they find their mojo, the Sharks will lose their next three tour matches against the Rebels, Blues, and Hurricanes.
The Bulls’ problem, like the Stormers, is one of consistency. While John Mitchell’s charges have shown some encouraging signs on attack, their poor defence and composure at key moments continue to cost them dearly. They should have beaten the Reds in Brisbane, and they should have closed out the match against the Chiefs in Hamilton after leading 28-14 at half-time.
In the past, conditioning has separated the better New Zealand and South African teams. That gap is closing when one considers how the Lions have performed in recent times. The Bulls and Stormers have also shown progress in this department.
So why do South African teams continue to fall short, even against weak teams like the Reds and Brumbies, when they travel Down Under?
The Bulls will play the Crusaders next Friday before returning to South Africa. The Sharks have three away games left, while the Lions will embark on their own four-match tour next month. The latter two teams must come away from their respective sojourns with some wins. New Zealand scalps would be ideal.
Can we really expect any of those teams to prevail in a Super Rugby playoff staged in Australasia after they’ve lost all of their regular season games in that part of the world? Indeed, will a Bok side made up predominantly of Super Rugby players have any reason to believe that victory in Australia and New Zealand is possible after another poor Super Rugby showing Down Under?
The South African sides need to start showing the necessary composure and belief in these matches. There’s been talk about progress in recent weeks, but progress should be measured by results.
Photo: Bruce Lim/photosport.nz