DURBAN - When it comes to Super Rugby, the more things change the more they stay the same, particularly for the South African participants. Change the format, change the composition of the SA challenge as much as you want, but one indefatigable fact remains - in general, South African teams are abysmal on the road.
This season is worse than ever. With just one round remaining before the play-offs, our four teams have played a total of 20 matches overseas - five apiece for the Stormers, Bulls, Lions and Sharks - with a return of just two wins, or a win ratio of 10 percent. If we want to be masochists and rub in the misery, 18 matches have been lost away from the green, green grass of home.
At the risk of harping on, an uncomfortable handful of those away losses occurred at venues where SA teams have previously been reasonably comfortable - Buenos Aires, Singapore and Hong Kong. The sole victories overseas were in Sydney, where the Lions prevailed 29-0, and in Auckland, where the Sharks shook off a 50-point pasting in Melbourne to stun the Blues by 60 points.
This record is not going to have the All Blacks, Pumas and Wallabies 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 this year of SA teams travelling badly in the confines of our borders.
While 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. Sadly, 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. Before we get to the away challenges of the Rugby Championship there will be overseas Super Rugby matches for at least one South African team - the Lions, and possibly the Sharks, depending on the results this weekend when the Sharks host the Jaguares and the Bulls visit the Lions.
With the Crusaders well clear at the top of the standings, they could host the Sharks in a quarter-final and possibly the Lions in a final, and you don’t have to be a pessimist to suggest that these matches would not end well for the visitors. Doom and gloom for the Boks? Maybe, but not necessarily.
While it is true that the Boks won the World Cup in 2007 on the back of the (champion) Bulls and the Sharks contesting the Super Rugby final in Durban, and in 2009 the SA teams did well on the road ahead of the Boks’ victorious Tri Nations campaign, the Tri-Nations wins in 1998 and 2004 had little Super Rugby platform to work with.
Erasmus would obviously have preferred his players to have experienced a winning mentality on the road this year in Super Rugby, but sometimes the Springbok sum is greater than the Super Rugby parts. Nick Mallett in 1998 and Jake White in 2004 can testify to that.