South Africa's franchises have won just 29% of matches against New Zealand opposition in 2015. It's a record that may worsen in the coming weeks. JON CARDINELLI reports.
Where would South Africa's best Vodacom Super Rugby sides be without those hapless Australians? In 2015, the South Africans have bashed the Aussies both home and away. Collectively, the five local teams boast an 80% success rate against Australian opposition. Take the Cheetahs (two losses) out of the equation, and that success rate jumps to 100%.
Unfortunately, the Australians don't set the standard in Super Rugby. New Zealand's best have traditionally set the pace in this tournament, and the 2015 edition has been no different. Indeed, if we look at the overall log, three Kiwi teams are in the top six. The Hurricanes are in pole position, and enjoy a seven-point lead over the second-placed Brumbies.
How does South African rugby measure up when compared with the best New Zealand has to offer? The results and stats after 11 rounds confirm that there is reason for concern. And if the trend continues over the next six weeks, a period which will see the Sharks and Bulls touring the Antipodes, New Zealand's best will have succeeded in inflicting significant psychological damage on SA's play-off prospects.
Collectively, the five SA teams have won just four out of 14 matches against Kiwi opposition. At this point, the Lions are the only team to have won in New Zealand (against the Blues). By contrast, New Zealand's sides have picked up a total of six wins in the nine matches played in South Africa.
The Bulls and Sharks boast the best records at present (50%), but then that needs to be viewed in perspective. Both teams have only played two matches apiece against Kiwi opponents. That record may worsen when they tour New Zealand in the coming weeks.
The Sharks are in a bad space, and will be underdogs in matches against the Highlanders and Hurricanes. The Bulls are still in the play-off picture, but their inconsistent form will be a concern ahead of that sojourn. They will play the Blues and Chiefs in successive weeks.
South African rugby will be counting on these sides to hit back. Of the Kiwi teams, only the Highlanders still need to tour South Africa. They may fancy their chances against the two traditionally weaker SA sides, the Cheetahs and Lions.
The Stormers have completed their matches against New Zealand opposition, at least as far as the league phase is concerned. While they will be pleased with their current log position (third), they may come to regret their one from four record against New Zealand opponents.
Should the Stormers progress to the play-offs, it's possible that they will be forced to play one of the Chiefs, Highlanders or Hurricanes, teams that they lost to in the league phase. And it's also worth mentioning that the Stormers avoided the Crusaders this season thanks to the draw. What confidence will the Cape side take into a potential play-off against the Crusaders? They haven't beaten them since 2010.
The top four New Zealand teams have played an intelligent and at times exciting brand of rugby. This has impacted on results, and it's been interesting to note the degree of their success against SA teams. Indeed, of the 10 victories against SA opposition, seven have been by 10 points or more. And it's not only the Lions and Cheetahs that have been on the wrong side of some savage beatings, but the Stormers and Sharks too.
Last year, much was made about the Springboks closing the gap between themselves and the world-leading All Blacks. And yet, Bok coach Heyneke Meyer must be concerned with the number of losses, as well as the margin of defeats, SA teams are suffering at the hands of the Kiwis. It doesn't bode well for the play-offs, where SA's best sides are likely to meet a top New Zealand side at some stage.
Photo: Steve Haag/Gallo Images