Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town – If you used their modern Super Rugby record in South Africa as a mathematical yardstick, the Waratahs could be said to have a 28.57 percent chance of toppling the Lions in Saturday’s Super Rugby semi-final in Johannesburg.
Given the greater inconsistency of Warren Whiteley’s team this year, when measured against the smoother-firing successive Lions tournament runners-up teams of 2016 and 2017, you could also argue that the Australian franchise have slightly better prospects than that.
But it remains a statistical fact that the ‘Tahs have won just four of 14 matches (one draw) on our shores since the advent of the conference system in 2011, which explains that percentage of below 30.
It is important to note that it is not a record to send too serious a shiver down their spines: victories across the ocean hardly come dime-a-dozen, after all, to the majority of Super Rugby outfits, and their record here will also be better than it is for certain other Australasian teams.
Yet it still sums up, arguably, the weight of their requirement in flying long-haul at this late stage of the competition for a knockout encounter on the Highveld – the Lions are likely to be widely installed as reasonably clear favourites by bookies.
Early this week, some betting agencies were envisaging them beating the Waratahs with the same degree of comfort as they expect the defending champions, the Crusaders, to see off derby rivals the Hurricanes in Christchurch in the earlier semi.
The Sydney-based team, who won as many matches (nine) in ordinary season as the Lions did -- although they ended two points adrift in log points -- have played only one round-robin match in SA this season.
That was a 24-24 draw with the Sharks in round three, when reserve scrumhalf Mitch Short’s 76th-minute try helped seal the stalemate.
But the Waratahs lost both SA matches in 2017, including a 55-36 try-fest (8-5 the final tally) at the hands of this weekend’s semis foes in their last sampling of Emirates Airline Park.
The other setback on that tour was a comprehensive 37-14 defeat at the hands of the Sharks in Durban.
But they also pipped the Capetonians 32-30 -- thanks to Michael Hooper’s try just before the siren -- in their only 2016 match here.
The Waratahs have not beaten the Lions in Johannesburg since the 2009 season, when the red-and-whites were nothing like the title-chasing force they are these days; the outcome on that occasion was 38-33 and the Lions ended the then-Super 14 in lowly 12th spot overall.
The Waratahs’ last knockout match in South Africa came in the 2010 season, when the Stormers beat them with plenty to spare (25-6) in a semi-final, before shifting onward to a loss to compatriots the Bulls in the Soweto showpiece.
The Lions also have the satisfaction of knowing that one of their most compelling showings of the present, rather up-and-down season for them was the 29-0 thrashing of the ‘Tahs in their own stronghold on April 20.
Here are all 14 Waratahs results in SA, stretching back to the start of the conference system:
2018: Sharks 24 Waratahs 24
2017: Lions 55 Waratahs 36, Sharks 37 Waratahs 14
2016: Stormers 30 Waratahs 32
2015: Lions 27 Waratahs 22, Cheetahs 33 Waratahs 58
2014: Sharks 32 Waratahs 10, Stormers 11 Waratahs 22
2013: Bulls 30 Waratahs 19, Kings 10 Waratahs 72
2012: Stormers 19 Waratahs 13, Cheetahs 35 Waratahs 34
2011: Sharks 26 Waratahs 21, Bulls 23 Waratahs 17
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