Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town – Thank goodness that Super Rugby fortunes traditionally don’t serve as too accurate a yardstick for Test challenges in the same year.
If they did, the Springboks’ prospects of eclipsing the top-ranked All Blacks in this World Cup year would look even more doubtful than they may seem right now.
That is because the gap has only widened between sides from the two countries in Super Rugby 2015, where the New Zealand challenge is considerably more compelling than either of the other two SANZAR partners – at least three outfits from those shores seem highly likely to make the cut for the six-team finals series.
Such a scenario would leave South Africa and Australia scrapping it out to see which can provide two of the remaining three qualifiers, and which may have to be content with a flimsy one.
At least as far as ordinary season combat is concerned, clashes between the SA and NZ franchises have come to an end, following the Bulls’ depressing 34-20 reverse to a weakened Chiefs team in Rotorua last Friday.
The final scoreboard from the 20 encounters? New Zealand 14, South Africa 6.
Five of the SA triumphs have come on our own shores, and on not one occasion has the win been accompanied by a four-try bonus point, which also tells you that even some of the triumphs have been desperately close and hard-earned: think Sharks 12 Chiefs 11, and Cheetahs 25 Blues 24, for example.
The lone South African victory in 10 starts in New Zealand came when the Lions defended as though their lives depended on it to pip the labouring Blues – the one genuinely “rotten apple” in the NZ conference this year –by a 13-10 margin in Auckland.
Among the many New Zealand wins, however, have been a few slaughters, like the Crusaders’ 52-10 result against the Sharks at Kings Park and 57-14 home triumph over the Cheetahs, and the Highlanders’ 48-15 romp against the Sharks in Dunedin.
The New Zealand sides have even managed a respectable 50 percent win record in South Africa, by clinching five of 10 matches here.
Last year was the worst collectively thus far by the SA teams since the advent of the conference system in 2011, with the Sharks the country’s lone playoffs representatives, and ending as the least favourably-placed group winners in third overall.
But even then the bilateral record against New Zealand teams was better than this year’s: the scoreboard on that occasion was 11-7 in NZ favour after ordinary season (two draws) and 1-1 from two fixtures in the later finals series phase – the Sharks beat the Highlanders in the first playoffs round before crashing to the Crusaders in a semi-final.
By stark contrast in this season’s competition, South African teams comfortably hold bragging rights over their Aussie counterparts.
With five bilateral games still to come – including three this weekend – the scoreboard from 15 completed matches reads an emphatic 11-4 in SA favour.
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