Rising risk of NZ sweep in SA

    2016-05-05 13:16

    Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer

    Cape Town – An embarrassing bit of statistical history flashes dangerously for South Africa in Vodacom Super Rugby 2016 … the possibility of a first-time clean sweep of wins on our soil by New Zealand teams.

    It is something that has never previously occurred since the advent of the competition in its Super 12 format in 1996, and usually not even been a close-run thing.

    But teams from New Zealand have already bagged four of the eight bilateral tussles scheduled for SA turf this season, with four to go and at least two of those fixtures looking particularly safe bets for further Kiwi success.

    Those are the respective Kings games in Port Elizabeth against the Blues this Saturday and then the Highlanders, the defending champions, after the Test window period on July 2.

    It is very optimistic, considering present fortunes, to envisage the labouring Eastern Cape side – one from eight, and recently thrashed even by the Jaguares -- winning either.

    You may argue that the Blues are bottom of the NZ conference, but that group is also the strongest by far in the controversially revamped competition this year and the Aucklanders have more points at this stage than six other franchises tournament-wide.

    Effectively, you could brand them a “mid-table” side overall.

    So the best hopes of staving off the unwanted sweep seem to lie with the Sharks and Lions; the former entertain the in-form Hurricanes in Durban on Saturday whilst the Lions play the Blues at Emirates Airline Park on May 14.

    But eight out of eight looks at least reasonably “on” for that elusive NZ 100 percent record here, and it would be another humiliating signal of their increasing bilateral supremacy in rugby more broadly since the advent of proper professionalism in the game.

    These are the four SA-staged games already safely banked for New Zealand: Kings 24 Chiefs 58 (March 12), Sharks 14 Crusaders 19 (March 26), Lions 37 Crusaders 43 (April 1), Lions 17 Hurricanes 50 (last Saturday).

    Admittedly under the 2016 system, there are two fewer ordinary-season matches for New Zealand teams in South Africa than before: usually it has been 10 per season since the conference system was started in 2011.

    But at least during those five years, it had never looked remotely likely in any single one that a sweep would occur.

    Last year, for example, the scoreboard read 5-5, and in 2014 it was 6-3 in South African favour with two draws (there were 11 games in total then, if you include one match in the finals series phase).

    South Africa’s best year under the conference structure for home wins against New Zealanders was in 2013, when they ruled the roost 7-3.

    But teams from the land of the long white cloud did dominate our shores in both 2012 (6-4) and 2011 (7-4, including one knockout clash).

    If we aren’t careful, 2016 could look unusually grotesque in the history books.

    Still, with the current system allowing for as many as two SA-hosted quarter-finals, perhaps there will be further opportunities to salvage the situation if New Zealand sides end up providing the opposition in either of them.

    Then again, is it simply scope for further indignity?

    *Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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    Friday, 15 February 2019
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