The South African teams’ success or failure will hinge once again on their results against New Zealand opposition, writes JON CARDINELLI.
The 2020 Super Rugby tournament will mark the 25th instalment of the southern-hemisphere showpiece. While great players have come and gone, and while the competition format has undergone several changes over the years, New Zealand’s grip on the trophy has been a constant.
New Zealand have accounted for 17 of the past 24 titles. At least one Kiwi team has featured in nine out of the past 10 finals, and a New Zealand side has prevailed on seven of those occasions.
The Waratahs were the last side to upset a New Zealand team in a final (2014). It’s been 10 years since a South African team – the Vodacom Bulls – won the Super Rugby tournament.
Director of rugby Rassie Erasmus mentioned the dearth of titles last year at the unveiling of the new South African contracting system. The Boks have gone on to tick two massive boxes since then, winning the Rugby Championship and World Cup. All that remains is for a local team to win the Super Rugby tournament.
Are South African teams closer than they were before in terms of realising this lofty objective? The Super Rugby results in 2019 were underwhelming, and all four franchises lost a number of senior players to Europe and Japan at the end of the season.
Three of the four coaches moved on. Three rookies ascended to the position of ultimate responsibility despite a lack of experience.
On that basis, there is no reason to expect the 2020 season to differ from what we’ve witnessed over the past five years. Unless one or two of the teams produce a more consistent performance, especially against the New Zealand teams, the local contingent will finish empty-handed once again.
SUPER RUGBY CHAMPIONS
It’s been interesting to note how New Zealand rugby as a collective is approaching the 2020 season. The rest of the world is in awe of their Super Rugby accomplishments over the past 25 years and has rightly lauded the Crusaders for their dominance over the past three. The Kiwis, however, are desperate to make a point following the All Blacks’ premature exit from the 2019 World Cup tournament.
The New Zealand sides won’t have the chance to hit back against England – who thumped the All Blacks in the semi-final – just yet. They may be looking to put the South Africans, particularly those teams stacked with World Cup winners, to the sword.
The Stormers will host the Hurricanes in the first round. The match promises to be the first of many intriguing South Africa-New Zealand battles. A win for the Cape side would certainly lift the hopes of the South African rugby community as a whole.
The South African teams have to build on the Boks’ World Cup win. Playoff contenders win the majority of their home matches during the regular season. Serious title contenders win more than they lose on tour.
We will have to wait until the South African teams travel overseas – and to New Zealand in particular – to make an informed assessment of their title chances. Over the next week or so, however, it would be great to see the South Africans beating their Kiwi counterparts and threatening to break that stranglehold.
Photo: Lee Warren/Gallo Images