Forget the Aussies, Kiwis are the Super Rugby benchmark
How SA teams square up to the New Zealand Super Rugby threat will go a long way in determining whether the Boks will have what it takes to beat the All Blacks
Sanity may have taken time to prevail but finally Super Rugby can now call itself the Super 15, even though some hearts still bleed for the loss of the Southern Kings and the Cheetahs.
That ship has long sailed, though, and the emphasis now falls on how the South African teams fare against their New Zealand counterparts.
If we’re honest, the Australian teams are nonentities even though Michael Cheika is often able to put together a competitive Wallaby side.
But the New Zealand teams are, and will continue to be, the benchmark.
After the two 57s and the 41 the Springboks have conceded in three of their four most recent Tests against the All Blacks, how they quell their New Zealand Super Rugby threat will go a long way in determining whether the Springboks will have the attitude, aptitude and fitness to beat the All Blacks.
Cold, hard stats
Granted, Super Rugby and Test rugby are vastly different kettles of fish, but here are some interesting statistics that need serious attention:
• The Cheetahs, Bulls and Stormers didn’t win in New Zealand. The Stormers had two 50-point defeats and so did the Cheetahs, who lost to every New Zealand franchise by more the 40 points. The Bulls also drew a blank against the New Zealand teams while the Stormers won two from three home matches against New Zealand sides but lost a home playoff against the Chiefs.
• In the 2016 season the Sharks won two in six against New Zealand sides with one win on the road. The Lions won five from eight but only one of those wins was in New Zealand, while the Kings were blanked.
Effectively a record of nine out of 35 was never going to pass muster and partly explained why the Boks battled to live with the All Blacks.Hell, it’s not even enough to get a standard or lower-grade pass back in the day.
The difference with 15 teams is that the four SA candidates will get a taste of the New Zealand teams, even though it’s only three of the five.
For example, the Sharks will not be facing the Blues and the Crusaders, while the Stormers miss out on the Hurricanes and Chiefs.
What may help the South African teams is that the New Zealand teams are pretty similar in terms of playing style, even though they have different personnel.
The Sharks may be an improved unit but it would have been nice to gauge their actual progress against the Crusaders in Christchurch.
Then again, it’s the Stormers who have to banish the ghosts of last year’s pasting against the current holders.
There’s light at the end of the tunnel, though, with all South African teams getting a piece of the New Zealand sides.With the 18-team system making teams alternate between the Australian and New Zealand teams every other year, it was difficult to pin down how good the South African teams were.An example that comes to mind is the Stormers, who had a whip hand over the Australian teams in 2016 only to be on the receiving end of a 60-point belting at the first sight of a New Zealand side.
Fortunately, the South African teams don’t even have to wait long for the New Zealand.
We’ll see how good the Bulls really are when they host the Crusaders on Saturday, while the Stormers visit the Crusaders on March 3.
The nice thing is that the cream invariably rises to the top, but under this dispensation we’ll know sooner rather than later in this regard.