JON CARDINELLI considers which of the local Super Rugby franchises is best placed to end South Africa’s losing streak in New Zealand.
The Sharks beat the Highlanders 15-14 in Dunedin on 22 April 2016. Since then, the South African Super Rugby franchises have combined for 12 straight defeats on New Zealand soil.
The Stormers recently returned from an Australasian tour that witnessed three losses. The Bulls went down to the Reds last Saturday, and will head into their next two games in New Zealand as underdogs.
The Sharks will play two matches in Australia and two in New Zealand over the next four weeks. Next month, the Lions will head Down Under for a challenging four-match tour of their own.
South Africa’s collective record in Australasia this season reads played four, lost four. One would expect one of the stronger teams, namely the Sharks or the Lions, to claim a win or two in Australia in the coming weeks. A win on New Zealand soil, however, will be harder to come by.
Since the start of the 2016 Super Rugby season, South Africa’s franchises have combined for just 10 wins in 36 games played across Australasia (a 27% win record). The collective record in New Zealand during this period is two wins in 18 matches (11%).
The failure to win regularly Down Under – and in some cases compete against the New Zealand sides – has had a patent impact on the confidence and form of South Africa’s top players. Indeed, the Springboks have not won a Test in Australia since 2013, nor a Test against the All Blacks in New Zealand since 2009.
The Sharks should give South African rugby fans a reason to cheer when they visit Canberra this Saturday. The Brumbies have been poor in their first three games, scoring a narrow win over the Sunwolves and then losing to the Reds and Rebels.
That said, it’s less clear which of the four sides, if any, will end South Africa’s rotten run in New Zealand.
The Bulls will have the opportunity to do so when they play the Chiefs in Hamilton on Friday. I mean that in the sense that anything can happen on the day. A couple of yellow cards, or even a red for a Chiefs player, and the Bulls could be in business.
The Bulls’ recent record in this part of the world doesn’t make for encouraging reading, though. They were beaten 28-12 in Hamilton last year, and one wouldn’t bet on any South African side knocking over the Crusaders in Christchurch at this stage. The last time the Bulls won in New Zealand was back in 2013, when they edged the Blues 28-21 in Auckland.
The Stormers lost both of their most recent games in New Zealand. They may return to the Land of the Long White Cloud for a playoff later this year. Their overall record in knockout games will not instill confidence.
The Sharks and the Lions will carry South Africa’s hopes as far as a rare win in New Zealand is concerned. Of course, the respective coaches will face the challenge of managing their squads to peak at the back end of a taxing four-game tour.
The Sharks will face the Brumbies and Rebels before heading to New Zealand to tackle the Blues and Hurricanes. The Lions are set to play the Waratahs, Reds, Hurricanes and Highlanders on consecutive weekends.
Neither side travelled to New Zealand during the conference phase in 2017. Both teams played their playoffs (the Sharks one and the Lions three) in South Africa.
That said, it’s interesting to note that the Sharks lost to both the Blues and Hurricanes (twice, once in the regular season and again in the quarter-final) when touring New Zealand in 2016. The Lions beat the Chiefs in Hamilton that year, but lost to the Highlanders and Hurricanes (in the final), two teams they will face when they travel to New Zealand this season.
A lot has changed since 2016, though. Many South African fans will be banking on the Sharks to knock over the Blues – the weakest of the five New Zealand sides in recent years.
The Lions could do themselves and the national side a favour if they beat the Hurricanes and Highlanders, teams that boast a number of players in the current All Blacks side. A two-from-two return for South Africa’s leading team would provide every Bok supporter, and Rassie Erasmus himself, with a massive confidence boost.
For now, however, even one winning result in New Zealand would be cause for celebration.
Photo: Joe Allison/photosport.nz