Rassie Erasmus’ Springboks must break a worrying South African rugby trend when they tour Argentina, Australia and New Zealand in the next four weeks, writes JON CARDINELLI.
Over the past three seasons, the Boks have won three out of 14 away Tests (a win record of 21%). Meanwhile, South Africa’s Super Rugby teams have combined for a mere 24 wins in 72 games staged abroad during the same period (33%).
In 2018, South African sides recorded two wins in 16 Super Rugby games played in Australasia, four straight failures in Argentina, and – most disturbingly – a zero from two return in Asia. Sad to say it, but South African teams are a different beast – more poodle than pit bull – when they play matches overseas these days.
The problem is as much mental as physical and needs to be addressed sooner rather than later. Indeed, that mental block will only grow larger and more difficult to shift with every winless tour and landmark defeat overseas.
Erasmus has installed a new hope and belief in the national side. It’s tough to ignore the recent Super Rugby results, though. The year-to-year overseas records of each of the four South African franchises tell a story of a rugby nation that is yet to halt an alarming decline.
The Bulls, South Africa’s worst touring side over a three-year period, won two of their away games in 2016 (40%) and none over the course of the next two seasons. While the Lions have the best overseas record during this time (43%), their winning ratio dropped from 75% in 2017 to 20% in the 2018 conference phase.
That doesn’t bode well for the Boks ahead of the away leg of the 2018 Rugby Championship. Very few of South Africa’s elite players have tasted success in Australasia over the past few months – and none have won in Argentina – and may be wanting for confidence.
The Boks are still searching for their first win in Australia since 2013 as well as their first victory against the All Blacks on New Zealand soil since 2009. In fact, that win against the Wallabies in Brisbane five years ago represents their one and only Rugby Championship success in Australasia over the past eight seasons.
Erasmus has worked hard to revive the Boks’ physical reputation over the past few months. The players have bought into his playing philosophy and have benefited from his motivational methods.
The Boks were certainly more combative in the series against England, and in the recent game against Argentina. However, those successes should be viewed in context.
The Boks haven’t lost a home series to a side from the northern hemisphere since the British & Irish Lions won 2-1 in 1997. Outside of a series against the Lions, the success or failure of the Boks’ season has long been defined by their results in the Rugby Championship and on the subsequent tour to Europe.
Wins for the Boks in Argentina and Australia would signify progress in the context of the past five years. As always, a victory in New Zealand will be a tough ask, especially at the end of a Rugby Championship tour that includes matches in Argentina and Australia beforehand.
Beyond the Rugby Championship, Erasmus, in his capacity as director of rugby, must address the issue of overseas failures at Super Rugby level. Ultimately, the problems plaguing the franchises are limiting the national team’s ability to grow and flourish.
This is an edited version of a column that first appeared in the August edition of SA Rugby magazine.
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