Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town - The Lions, clinging so tenuously now to an important top-two spot in Super Rugby, have to simultaneously snap a formidable sequence of home Hurricanes victories over South African foes if they are to register an upset in the “Cake Tin” on Saturday.
Only the controversial, legitimacy-challenging tournament structure is keeping the Johannesburg-based franchise in second overall at present, as their ongoing SA conference mastery is the device keeping them that buoyant.
This weekend’s very opponents, for example, are confined to fourth as things stand, as each conference leader must occupy berths one to three, regardless of points tallies.
From two matches fewer, the ‘Canes (on 32) actually have one log point more than the Lions, and will be favourites to stretch that further on Saturday (09:35 kick-off, SA time).
That status - remember that the Lions come off a heart-breaking Brisbane loss to the modest Reds, a match in which they effectively woke up too late - is certainly enhanced by statistical ammunition.
The Hurricanes, you see, are on a golden run of successes on home soil, whether it be at main headquarters Westpac Stadium or more secondary venues, against SA teams: if they see off the increasingly desperate Lions, it will represent an 11th triumph on the trot at the expense of outfits from our shores.
For the last SA win in New Zealand against the ‘Canes, you have to roll back the records to April 26, 2013 ... more than five years ago.
That was when, at Palmerston North, the Stormers pipped a then much less competitive Hurricanes side (they ended the tournament 11th out of 15) by 18-16.
It seems an eternity ago, when you consider how both the Super Rugby landscape - not always for the better, along its much-tweaked path - and respective squad personnel lists have changed subsequently.
Back then, the Hurricanes featured such stalwarts, now no longer active for them, like Conrad Smith, Jeremy Thrush and Victor Vito, whilst the victorious Stormers team included the likes of Gary van Aswegen, Deon Fourie and De Kock Steenkamp - similarly all pretty long gone from Newlands.
But from that day onward, it has been only suffering on Hurricanes home soil for South African opponents.
There have been several rather blown-out score-lines, too, which go a long way to explaining why, in the 10-match uninterrupted streak, the average points difference between the ‘Canes and their visiting SA foes has been 20.5.
Those “biggies” include a 61-7 thrashing of the now Super Rugby-ditched Cheetahs (2017), the 2016 quarter-final slaughter of the Sharks in a near cyclone-force wind (41-0), and another high-scoring victory over the Cheetahs (60-27) in 2014.
The Lions are one of the victims, roughly midway through the hot trot: their 20-3 defeat in the 2016 Wellington final.
It was a plucky enough showpiece performance from the visitors, at the time knowing that no team had yet been able to cross the Indian Ocean to hoist the Super Rugby crown.
They will still have the nucleus of those gallant 2016 troops available this weekend, even if they will also be much changed in some departments.
The starting loose forwards that day, for instance, were captain Warren Whiteley, Jaco Kriel (both injured, and to a costly extent, for much of 2018) and Warwick Tecklenburg (now retired).
Still, Saturday’s Lions side might do well to consider how desperately close compatriots the Sharks came to toppling the ‘Canes in their own den only a few weeks ago - somehow managing to let slip a two-score advantage late in the game to be pipped 38-37 in a Napier-hosted genuine thriller.
Here is the full list of those 10 Hurricanes home wins in succession against SA sides:
Hurricanes 38 Sharks 37
Hurricanes 41 Stormers 22; Hurricanes 61 Cheetahs 7
Hurricanes 42 Kings 20; Hurricanes 41 Sharks 0 (QF); Hurricanes 20 Lions 3 (F)
Hurricanes 25 Stormers 20; Hurricanes 32 Sharks 24
Hurricanes 60 Cheetahs 27; Hurricanes 25 Bulls 20
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