Dr Ross Tucker says the travel factor will make it difficult for the Sharks to beat the Crusaders in Christchurch, writes BRENTON CHELIN.
Records are made to be broken. The Sharks showed that earlier this year when they defeated the Crusaders on their own turf for the first time. They even had the audacity to play 54 minutes of the match with 14 men and 10 minutes with 13. Two wins in seven away knockout matches for the Sharks may be a better record than some, but it shows just how tough it is to win matches like Saturday's semi-final away from home. It's something that Tucker, who works at the Sports Science Institute of South Africa, has conducted his own investigation into.
'I've looked at all the previous seasons of Super Rugby before and I've tried to quantify how much home advantage and travel is worth,' he told SARugbymag.co.za. 'That is to determine the difference between a team playing at home as opposed to that same team travelling to face the same opposition.'
'Looking over the results, simple home-ground advantage is worth about five points, while travel is worth about another five points. The consequence of that is if you are going to beat a team away from home after travelling, you need to be around 10 points better than them. It makes a big difference.'
That the Crusaders have never lost a home play-off match and their players kicked back this weekend while the Sharks were involved in a gruelling battle with the Highlanders only adds to the growing doubts surrounding the Durban team's chances. Throw in a long-haul flight and the task becomes even tougher.
'The reason it is so difficult to win overseas is because of the physiology of what it takes to travel. You lose sleep during an uncomfortable night on a plane and later because of jet lag. Added to that, you're away from home, the other team is familiar with the stadium and the conditions, and the referee is subconsciously on their side.'
It all paints a glum picture for the Sharks, but after overcoming the odds to slay the Crusaders earlier this season it would be uniwse to write them off completely. Should they manage another historic victory in Christchurch, a victory for the Brumbies over the Waratahs would see both teams heading back to the Republic for the final. But will the Sharks still be in a position to capitalise on their home advantage?
'The Sharks will be travelling for the second time in a week, so where they might have a 10-point advantage to begin with, that advantage would be cut in half. Remember this is all theoretical at the end of the day. The Sharks had to travel back to face the Stormers a couple of year's ago and despite not being given much of a chance they still won on the day. This is sport and there are no certainties.'
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