Tour torture is cause for concern

The manner of defeat Down Under is a bigger worry than the dismal results, writes JON CARDINELLI.

The Cheetahs concluded their Australasian tour this past Saturday with a defeat to the Blues. It capped a disastrous tour where the central franchise lost four from four and also produced some of the most aimless, counter-productive rugby in recent memory.

The Stormers are three games into their tour, and are still searching for a win. While they have been more sensible about their approach, poor execution and a disturbing lack of composure has contributed to defeats in Christchurch, Hamilton, and Canberra.

This season, South African teams are nought from seven in Australasia. There is also a strong chance that the Stormers will lose another match when they play the Reds this coming weekend.

The Reds will be especially angry after being robbed by the incompetent South African officials in the recent match against the Lions in Johannesburg. Unfortunately for the Stormers, they will bear the brunt of that wrath.

It should go without saying that 0-7 in Australasia is not good enough, and that these results are bad news for the Springboks. I’ve heard the counter-argument that the New Zealand and Australian teams have also struggled away from home. Indeed, the two-time champion Chiefs lost to the Western Force in Perth this past Saturday, and the Reds lost both their matches in South Africa.

But it is not the same thing. New Zealand isn’t trying to cultivate a belief that they can win in South Africa. The All Blacks have only lost one game in South Africa over the past four seasons. They haven’t lost to the Boks on the highveld since 2009, which is some record considering the South Africans are always a bigger threat at altitude.

It won’t matter that the Hurricanes recently lost their two matches in South Africa. There is nothing to be read into the Chiefs’ defeat in Perth. None of these results will impact on the confidence of the All Blacks, who have beaten every team in the world, both home and away, over the past two seasons. They are comfortably the best side on the planet.

The Boks are No 2, and are working to close the gap between themselves and the trend-setting All Blacks. In an interview with this website last month, Bok coach Heyneke Meyer said that he wanted to see South African teams doing well in Super Rugby, and winning in Australasia regularly. He said that this would give the players confidence for when they travel overseas later in the year for the Rugby Championship.

The results may be disappointing, but it is the performances that are damning

I’m not saying that wins for the Boks in Perth and Wellington are suddenly impossible. But given the recent results and performances in Super Rugby, Meyer’s task will be that much tougher.

The results don't tell the whole story. The Cheetahs employed the wrong approach on tour, and often played into the opposition's hands. The tour was thus a failure in terms of results and performance. As things stand, the Boks in that line-up would have gained nothing from the trip to Australia and New Zealand.

The Stormers have blamed injuries for their results, but there have been other factors contributing to their poor 2014 record. You could forgive them if they’d pulled together and produced some brave performances, even if the results still didn’t go their way. Sadly, this hasn't been the case.

It wasn’t so long ago when they did exactly that. The Stormers topped the overall Super Rugby log in 2012 despite a horrendous run of injuries. That was inspiring. That was a team.

The current mob are anything but, and have lost their last three matches in disappointing fashion. Yes, I’ve heard the excuse that they were always up against it with the tour schedule, but that is not the issue here. The issue is the quality of those performances and the worrying absence of composure.

The Stormers relinquished a 10-point lead to lose in the final quarter in Christchurch. Their once famed-defence was abysmal in Hamilton, conceding five tries. In Canberra, they couldn’t even manage the basics of finding their jumpers at the lineout, finding touch with their penalty kicks, or finding the gap between the uprights from close range. The results may be disappointing, but it is the performances that are damning.

What does this mean for South African rugby? Meyer is right when he says that the five franchises must build some momentum via a set of strong performances Down Under. The South African sides have done so in recent years, but it’s important that they keep that belief burning ahead of a Test season where the Boks will be looking to claim an elusive victory over the All Blacks and ultimately the No 1 world ranking.

The Kiwis will be especially happy about what’s transpired on the Cheetahs and Stormers’ tours. Meyer will be hoping that the Bulls and Sharks reverse the trend when they tour later in the competition (the Lions may struggle due to their inexperience). The quality of performance as well as the composure of these teams will be under scrutiny, and it's important for the Boks that they pass the test.

Photo: Stefan Postles/Getty Images

Post by