Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town – It is pretty seldom that you can brand Australia
“allies” in any South African quest for sporting success; more usually they are
a heart-breaking impediment.
Nor would it be accurate to suggest that Australian teams
are actively attempting to boost the SA bid for a first SA Vodacom Super Rugby
title success since the installation of conference systems in 2011. (Doesn’t
that last Bulls silverware grab of 2010 at Orlando Stadium now seem so scarily
Unintentionally, however, they are helping our cause as
things stand, roughly at the midway mark of the 2016 ordinary season.
There is an increasingly bright chance, thanks to collective
frailties in the Aussie conference, that a South African side will be in a
position to host a home semi-final, assuming that they get past one of two
guaranteed home quarter-finals for the log-topping teams from the Africa
If that happens, not only is it an improvement on last year,
when no South African franchise even cracked the last four, but also 2014 when
the Sharks had to travel to New Zealand for a semi and were duly smashed 38-6.
The Bulls were our last home semi-finalists in 2013, but
they were nosed out 26-23 at Loftus by a Brumbies team of the short Jake White
coaching era in Canberra.
It is difficult not to feel that at least one home semi this
year will be necessary if a South African side is to break the title drought in
these parts: get through that and it only requires one smash-and-grab, one
out-of-this-world performance (most likely in New Zealand, you’d imagine) in
the August 6 showpiece to end that six-year barrenness.
Of the established trio of southern hemisphere superpowers,
South Africa is the only one not to have won Super Rugby yet in the conferences
era – New Zealand boasts the Chiefs twice (2012 and 2013) and Highlanders
(2015), whilst Australia can trumpet the Reds (2011) and Waratahs (2014).
The chances are currently favourable that a “top two” finish
will occur for South Africa this year, given that the prime first and second of
the eight seedings for the knockouts seem destined – unless there is a sudden,
pronounced Aussie wake-up – for NZ and SA hands, in either order.
It is the Australian section of the competition that is
labouring the most, as evidenced by the fact that the leading NZ (and overall)
team, the Chiefs, boast 33 points, the top SA side (Stormers) have 28 and the
best-performing Aussie outfit, the Melbourne Rebels, lag some way behind with
Further confirmation that the Aussies are largely
floundering in 2016 comes when you tally up total points managed by NZ, SA and
Aussie teams thus far, and then put averages to them: the five Kiwi sides have
amassed 131 points between them (average 26.20), the six SA teams 115 (average
19.16) and the five Australian franchises only a pretty lamentable 74 (average
The Rebels may be relative surprise packages Down Under this
year, but even their present mastery of their conference would see them placed
a humdrum eighth overall under the old, single-table system pre-2011.
Four NZ teams (Chiefs, Crusaders, Hurricanes and
Highlanders) and three South Africans (Stormers, Lions, Bulls) boast more
points than the Melbourne outfit at this bend in the road.
What’s been surprising has been the decline this season of
the Waratahs, champions only two years back, and the normally highly
competitive Brumbies, even if there is still time left for revival in each
Of course earning possible supremacy over the Australian
participants in the competition hardly gives any one of the Stormers, Lions,
Bulls and Sharks some sort of blissful, freebie pass to the title … expect a
couple of juggernauts from the land of the long white cloud to stand very
spiritedly in the way, as has become the norm.
But it could help a fair bit …
*For the first time in Super Rugby history this weekend, six
SA teams will be in action against overseas foes in a single round.
*Follow our chief
writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing