The South African teams’ two-from-20 tour record in the 2018 Super Rugby tournament bodes badly for the Springboks ahead of their away Tests in Australasia and Europe, writes JON CARDINELLI.
Sad to say it, but South African teams are still making history for the wrong reasons. This past weekend, the Bulls suffered an inaugural loss in Singapore, while the Stormers went down to the Jaguares in Buenos Aires for the first time.
Both the Bulls and the Stormers have failed to win an overseas match this season. The Lions managed to beat the Waratahs in Sydney, while the Sharks ended a two-year drought for South African teams in New Zealand when they thumped the Blues in Auckland.
The final South African tour scorecard for the regular season makes for depressing reading. It points to a mental problem. It doesn’t inspire confidence ahead of the Super Rugby playoffs, several of which will be staged in Australasia, as well as the Boks’ subsequent away Tests.
This season, the South African teams combined for two wins and 12 losses in Australasia. However, what’s been even more alarming to note is the teams’ inability to win in Argentina and Asia.
All four of the local teams were well beaten by the Jaguares in Buenos Aires. The Stormers’ loss in Hong Kong and the Bulls’ failure in Singapore have drawn comparisons to the Boks’ shock defeat to Japan at the 2015 World Cup.
Bok coach Rassie Erasmus, who is also the director of rugby, must be a worried man. The Lions and Sharks are the only playoff contenders from South Africa at present. What reason do these teams have to believe that they can win a knockout match away from home?
These results will not help the Boks in the middle- and long-term. Indeed, Erasmus and company will need to address the mental frailty that appears to plague South African players whenever they compete in an overseas fixture.
Erasmus has implemented a number of changes since his appointment, and the national side has gone on to obtain some important results. The Boks won a series against England at a time when South African rugby was desperate for any sort of success.
That success was to be expected when one considers the big picture, though. The Boks have been dominant in series played in South Africa for much of the professional era. In that sense, they achieved nothing out of the ordinary against England, at least as far as results are concerned.
Their record in the Rugby Championship, and on the subsequent tour to Europe, has often determined the success of their season. The Boks started the 2016 season with a series victory against Ireland, but went on to finish with a 33% win record. They hammered France 3-0 in June 2017, but only managed to win four of their next 10 matches.
Since 2016, the Boks have won three out of 14 Tests played abroad. The struggle to win in Australasia is perennial when one remembers that the Boks haven’t beaten the Wallabies in Australia since 2013 or the All Blacks in New Zealand since 2009.
Over the past two years, however, the Boks have slumped to inaugural away defeats to Argentina and Italy, and record losses in New Zealand and Ireland. They’ve lost three consecutive overseas matches against Wales, a team that has battled to make an impact in the Six Nations during the same time frame.
The country was riding a wave of optimism after the series-clinching Test in Bloemfontein a few weeks ago. Expectations should be tempered, though, before the Boks go abroad in the coming months.
Erasmus put it best when he said that winning is the only way to bring about change. The Bok coach has a long-term plan and will experiment at various stages in the lead-up to the World Cup. Time is running out for the Boks to claim a few big wins abroad ahead of that tournament, though.
None of the South African sides have played a particularly effective brand of rugby this year. While all four of the teams have shown more intent on attack, all four have been found wanting on defence. The Lions, South Africa’s best side in recent seasons, have not improved in terms of their game management and may struggle once again when they reach the 2018 playoffs.
Perhaps the better teams will surprise us over the next few weeks. A Super Rugby title win for a South African team would certainly boost the Boks ahead of the most challenging part of their season. A playoff win or two in Australasia would go some way towards eradicating the mental block that South Africans appear to have when they play overseas.
All that said, Erasmus will have to address the issue when the Boks get together in mid-August. Seven of the next 10 Tests will be staged abroad. This new-look team will need to find the physical and mental strength to succeed where their Super Rugby counterparts, as well as the 2016 and 2017 Bok sides, have failed.
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