JOHANNESBURG - Want to know the enormity of the task awaiting the Lions in Saturday's Super Rugby semi-final at Ellis Park? Well, the last time a Lions team beat the Hurricanes was 10 years ago, when Tana Umaga was still wearing the Canes No 13 on his back.
That’s the magnitude of the job, plain and simple. But it gets worse. The only time a South African Super Rugby team beat the Hurricanes since 2014 was last year, when the Sharks prevailed 32-15 in Durban.
Yip, only one South African team have beaten the Hurricanes in 14 matches. It’s understandable then that the visitors from Wellington, who downed the Lions in the final last year, are the favourites to win through to the final - even though they’re playing away from home tomorrow.
Consider the following for a second or two: The last time the Lions beat the men in the gold and black jumpers Umaga and Conrad Smith were the centres for the Canes, Piri Weepu was at scrumhalf and two of the loose-forwards were Rodney So’oialo and Jerry Collins, who sadly is no longer with us.
Turning out for the Lions that day were, among others, Andre Pretorius, who captained the team, Jaco Pretorius and Jaque Fourie, who were the centres, and Ricky Januarie.
The Lions won that match convincingly 30-7, on March 24, 2007.
Flyhalf Pretorius was the big star, kicking one conversion, one drop-goal and five penalties, while Fourie and hooker Etienne Reynecke scored the Lions’ two tries.
The teams’ next eight meetings though, since that Lions win in 2007, have all gone the way of the Hurricanes, including last year’s 50-17 win at Ellis Park and the 20-3 triumph in the final in Wellington. Worryingly for the Lions, their record before 2007 against their opponents this weekend is just as bad.
Since splitting from the Cats in 2002, the teams have met 14 times in total, with the only win being that victory in 2007.
The Lions have scored 420 points against the Canes, who’ve scored 540, with the average score being 30-23 in favour of the Hurricanes.
But it’s not only the Lions of the South African franchises who have struggled against Umaga’s old team. Worryingly for the Lions, the Canes have, in fact, not lost to a South African side since February 28, 2014 - that’s in 14 matches that they have come up trumps against all-comers from South Africa.
On that day they lost 19-18 to the Stormers at Newlands, but then beat the Cheetahs (home) 60-27 and Bulls (home) 25-20 and followed up those victories with wins in 2015 against the Sharks (home) 32-24, the Stormers (home) 25-20, the Bulls (away) 17-13, and the Lions (away) 22-8.
In 2016, they beat the Kings (home) 42-20, the Lions (away) 50-17, the Sharks (home) 41-0 and the Lions again (home in the final) 20-3.
This year they have beaten the Bulls (away) 34-20, the Cheetahs (home) 61-7, and the Stormers (home) 41-22.
As defending champions and with a record like that against the South African teams it’s difficult to find any valid reasons why the Lions should be regarded as favourites tomorrow.