It has been nine years since the Springboks last beat the All Blacks in New Zealand and it doesn’t look likely to end any time soon. South Africa’s Super Rugby teams need a change in mindset when they tour Australia and New Zealand.
The generally appalling record of SA teams in the Antipodes does not give Springbok coaches much to work with in the self-belief department. Unsurprisingly, post-admission Springbok victories in New Zealand are so rare they can be counted on one hand. The oases in the desert are the wins in Wellington in 1998, Dunedin in 2008 and Hamilton in 2009).
The Boks have been better in Australia, but not much.
Building the belief that the Kiwis and Aussies can be beaten abroad should start with the Super Rugby teams, but they seem to have conceded defeat before they leave OR Tambo.
There was a period between 2007 and 2014 when the SA travel record picked up. It was largely because the Bulls, Sharks and Stormers each had a core of experienced, very good players during that time. But since the last World Cup, the overall list of away wins has plunged.
Change the format, change the composition of the SA challenge as much as you want but one indefatigable fact remains — in general, SA teams remain abysmal on the road.
At the end of this year’s pool stages, and thus not including the Sharks’ quarter-final loss in Christchurch at the weekend, the four SA teams had played a total of 20 matches overseas- five apiece for the Stormers, Bulls, Lions and Sharks – with a paltry return of two wins. To be masochists, that is a crushing 18 matches lost away from the green, green grass of home.
And an uncomfortable handful of those away losses occurred at venues where SA teams have previously been reasonably comfortable or would expect to win, such as Buenos Aires, Singapore, Melbourne and Hong Kong.
The sole victories overseas in 2018 were in Sydney, where the Lions prevailed 29-0 over the Waratahs, and in Auckland, where the Sharks shook off a 45-point pasting in Melbourne to stun the Blues by 60 points.
Over the past three years, only the Lions and Sharks have won in New Zealand — the Sharks in Auckland earlier this year, plus one win against the Highlanders in Dunedin in 2016, and the Lions in 2016 against the Chiefs in Hamilton.
This lack of appetite for travel means the All Blacks, Pumas and Wallabies will not be quaking in their boots when the Springboks visit Wellington on September 15, Mendoza on August 25 and Brisbane on September 8.
Also distressing for Bok coach Rassie Erasmus is the trend of SA teams travelling badly within the confines of our borders. While it is true that local derbies are more often than not won by the home teams, this year has been worse than ever for visiting sides. The Lions beat the Stormers and Bulls away, and the Bulls beat the Sharks in Durban, but that is it.
The Stormers lost all eight of their away games in 2018; the Sharks, traditionally good travellers, had a disappointing season on the road in winning just one from eight; the Bulls had the same return as the Sharks and the Lions were the best tourists with three from eight.
All of the South African teams lost in Argentina, a worrying record given that the Pumas masquerade as the Jaguares in Super Rugby, while the Bulls were embarrassed by the Sunwolves in Singapore and the Stormers fell to the same team in Hong Kong.
The Boks won the World Cup in 2007 on the back of the Bulls and the Sharks contesting the Super Rugby final in Durban (with both having travelled well in the competition), and in 2009 the SA teams did well on the road ahead of the Boks’ victorious Tri Nations campaign. But it’s not all doom and gloom as the Boks won the Tri-Nations in 1998 and 2004 despite having no platform of Super Rugby success.
Rassie would obviously have preferred to draw his players from Super Rugby teams that have displayed a winning mentality on the road this year. Little will change until the SA teams stop blaming lengthy tours and the competition for their ‘victim’ frame of mind.
One can only hope that the Springbok sum is greater than the Super Rugby parts.