Rob Houwing - Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town – Bilateral carnage … that is perhaps the only way
to accurately summarise the three weekend Super Rugby matches which pitted
South African teams against New Zealand ones.
As if confirmation that the once-proud rivalry between the
two countries, particularly at Test level, has fizzled out violently in recent
times was even needed, we certainly got it in round 11 of the increasingly
controversial, lopsided franchise-based competition.
It was a 3-0 sweep for NZ as the Crusaders produced the
Saturday cherry on top, spectacularly breaking a nine-year duck for them at
Loftus as they humiliated and utterly bamboozled the Bulls 62-24.
The result followed similarly depressing Friday outcomes,
where the Hurricanes got the ball rolling by beating the Stormers 41-22 in
Wellington and the Highlanders did a veritable Houdini in overcoming the
Cheetahs 45-41 in a Bloemfontein rollercoaster ride.
That is collective bragging rights for the New Zealanders of
148 points to 87, with two of the wins coming away from home, but the try count
is really more damning and educative: 23 to 10.
Yes, that is an average of more than seven tries conceded
between the trio of SA teams, their defences cracked open as if children had
been invited to raid the toffee-apple stall at the fair free of charge.
It also meant that NZ sides have now won nine of 10 clashes
thus far in 2017 between teams from the two countries, their lone blip being
when the Stormers overcame the Chiefs 34-26 on April 8 and, all too briefly,
the Capetonians’ world looked close to wonderful with a six-out-of-six record
(they have since lost four on the trot).
Having a special field day against outfits from our shores
are the overall table-leading Crusaders, who have notched no fewer than 25
tries over the course of respective whippings of the Stormers, Cheetahs and
Think about it … 25.
It would be comical if it weren’t so sad.
None of this will be making one of the Springboks’ undisputed
heavyweights of an era long gone, Frik du Preez, feel especially better as he
recovers – at the time of writing, that was some good news – from a heart
Nor is any likelihood of respite just around the corner:
with the Cheetahs visiting the revitalised Blues on Friday off a long-haul
flight and the punch-drunk Bulls entertaining the Highlanders, the danger of
further bloodshed against SA causes seems very real.
What I found especially revealing about the two SA-staged
setbacks against NZ opponents this weekend was that both came in Highveld
Remember the days when, cautiously anticipating results
going in favour of the relevant SA cause, you would hopefully think “the
altitude will get to the New Zealanders in the last quarter”?
It is almost as if firm, fast Highveld pitches and the thin
air have suddenly, in the past few years, instead become allies rather than
impediments to the adventurous, ruthless and highly-skilled sides from the Land
of the Long White Cloud, whether at Super Rugby level or the world-leading All
On Saturday the Crusaders all too often made the Bulls look
leaden, clumsy, sterile and bereft of ideas or structure as they indulged in
their 60-plus point riot.
Almost, though not quite, as damning one day earlier was
seeing those new masters of the sporting choke, the Cheetahs, somehow contrive
to fritter away a 41-24 lead against the Highlanders from as late as the 76th
After being so pleasingly urgent and constructive for so
long, Franco Smith’s charges gave a four or five-minute “lesson” in how not to
close out a game, with some painfully naïve tactics and hapless defensive charity
at the critical business end.
So broadly speaking these are uneasy times, all over again,
as the international season draws ever closer for South Africa.
If there is one crumb of comfort for our country in Super
Rugby, it is that the Australian challenge remains considerably more dire, and
arguably only worsens.
All four Aussie sides in action in the latest round lost,
including two defeats to SA foes as the Lions thrashed the Rebels to stay
unbeaten on tour – they just underlined that they are far and away the best
unit from our shores – and the Sharks were workmanlike more than wonderful in
seeing off the Force comfortably enough, but minus a bonus point, in Durban.
There is an enduring, peculiar pattern in the competition
this year, regarding the three biggest nations in it: NZ the runaway premier
conference, the SA bunch a distant second, and the Aussie group trailing ours
by about as wide a margin …
fixtures (home teams first, all kick-offs SA time):
Friday: Blues v Cheetahs, 09:35; Brumbies v Lions, 11:45.
Saturday: Crusaders v Hurricanes, 09:35; Rebels v Reds, 11:45; Bulls v
Highlanders, 15:05; Kings v Sharks, 17:15; Jaguares v Force, 23:40. Byes:
Stormers, Chiefs, Sunwolves, Waratahs.
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