S15: Signs of SA progress v NZ
Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town – A strong finish to bilateral matches in Super Rugby 2018 ordinary season could mean that South African teams have their best year in four against New Zealand counterparts.
As things stand, there have been four SA wins – including one on NZ soil itself, the Sharks beating the Blues 63-40 – and nine losses.
Three matches involving teams from the two countries remain: Highlanders v Lions in Dunedin and Stormers v Chiefs in Cape Town this Saturday, then Sharks v Chiefs in Durban a week later.
Whilst the Lions - especially minus hugely influential hooker Malcolm Marx and at considerable risk of tour fatigue now – seem vulnerable to another defeat, would it be overly optimistic to anticipate both the Stormers and Sharks, in current form, seeing off the visiting men from Waikato?
If that scenario plays itself out (no guarantees at all, naturally!) South African teams would have earned six NZ scalps from 16 opportunities this season, ahead of the knockout phase.
That probably doesn’t sound very special, and it isn’t … but it must also be weighed against recent statistical history.
It would amount to a win percentage rate of 37.5, even if there is also a strong likelihood it might dip again after ordinary season given that any SA sides making the finals series don’t seem destined for very favourable – or read: home-focussed – draws in that phase.
Whatever happens from here, it will be a better SA season against New Zealand foes, when you consider how dreadful the imbalance was in 2017 (both ordinary season and from knockout play).
Last year there were 18 relevant matches in total, in which SA sides won a pitiful three (not one away), for a win percentage against NZ outfits of 16.66.
That included the heart-breaking 25-17 Crusaders triumph over the Lions in the final at Emirates Airline Park, as they became the first side to cross the Indian Ocean to win a showpiece in the competition.
It was certainly a nadir year for SA in the bilateral scrap in the competition, admittedly not helped by the country having an unsustainable six sides in a then 18-team tournament (Cheetahs and Kings since shifted elsewhere in the world).
Things went a bit better in 2016, when SA sides claimed six victories over NZ rivals from 19 cracks (win percentage 31.57).
A year earlier (2015), we were back on shakier ground: five triumphs from 19 attempts – 26.31 percent.
The best SA showing of the last five seasons – including the current one – remains 2014, when as many as nine wins were banked, against 12 reverses.
Add in the two draws, and South Africa’s win percentage was a lofty (though that word is used cautiously) 39.13.
SA wins v NZ teams this year (from most recent):
Sharks 38 Highlanders 12
Blues 40 Sharks 63
Stormers 37 Blues 20
Bulls 21 Hurricanes 19
NZ wins v SA teams:
Hurricanes 28 Lions 19
Bulls 28 Highlanders 29
Hurricanes 38 Sharks 37
Lions 8 Crusaders 14
Crusaders 33 Bulls 14
Chiefs 41 Bulls 28
Lions 35 Blues 38
Highlanders 33 Stormers 15
Crusaders 45 Stormers 28
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