Maul’s the pity as SA rugby hasn’t got a rucking clue
There’s no secret why we can't beat New Zealand teams
Social media is a cruel place and the Stormers felt the brunt of it last week after slumping to their 10th consecutive loss in New Zealand when they went down 33-15 to the Highlanders on Friday.
It’s easy to have a go at the Stormers but slightly deeper analysis reveals that they are no worse than any other side. In fact, statistically, they are better than most.
The Stormers have won 14 out of 48 matches in NZ – or 29% – since they became a standalone franchise in 1997. That is pretty abysmal but, when scratching deeper, it’s actually a superb return in the modern era.
The Lions (including the Cats era) have won only five matches in 44 in NZ (5%) while the Bulls, who have won three Super Rugby titles, have only won seven out of 46 matches in NZ (15%).
The Sharks have the best return out of any SA side with 18 wins in 51 matches (35%).Australian sides, who are pretty much in the same timezone as NZ, fare little better.
The Brumbies, twice winners of Super Rugby, have amassed 19 wins in 57 visits to NZ (33%), the Reds 11 from 53 games (20%), the Rebels one win from 15 (6%), and the Waratahs 16 wins from 57 encounters (28%).
The last time an Aussie team won a game in NZ was nearly three years ago when the Waratahs beat the Hurricanes 29-24 in Wellington in 2015.
The Aussie franchises are collectively on a 29-match losing streak in NZ.
The SA franchises have fared only slightly better recently – if “better” is an accurate word to describe a collective three wins from 29 games in the same period.
At a higher level the All Blacks enjoyed a 47-match winning streak at home that stretched nearly eight years between 2009 and 2017 before the British & Irish Lions ended it in the second Test of their titanic series last year.
It’s obvious that winning in NZ is as rare as local politicians admitting to any wrongdoing. But why are they so formidable at home? There is no one answer and many theories have been presented.
One is that it’s their national sport and virtually all boys (in this case as it’s men’s rugby we’re talking about) are exposed to the game.Another theory is that NZ’s rise from an already dominant team in the amateur era, to an almost invincible one in the pro era, has coincided with the emergence of powerful Polynesian players who are now second- and third-generation New Zealanders.
There is no doubt that the NZ Rugby Union recognised early on that the Pacific Islands offered a wealth of naturally talented athletes who could be polished through exposure to opportunities, sports science, schooling, coaching and facilities in NZ. They have benefited from this system, but it’s not enough to explain such a high degree of dominance.
South Africa and England have similar facilities to those of NZ while they also have more players. SA is steeped in rugby history and has fine nurseries through its schools. Talent abounds here too, and yet SA continues to fall behind at both provincial and Test level.
NZ appears to have got it right at a much younger level where their focus is on skills development and game intelligence. In SA, schoolboy rugby, even at primary school level, is focused on results rather than producing skilled and perceptive rugby players.
At a higher level, the NZ game is egalitarian with only a handful of the very best All Blacks on what could be considered high salaries.
Talented youngsters have to live on small junior contracts while even the 120-odd Super Rugby contracted players are not going to be set up for life based on their wages. There is a built-in cutthroat edge to the NZ game because it’s so competitive at the very top.In SA, talented schoolboy players are offered R750,000-a-year contracts without a minute of senior rugby to their name. There is an air of entitlement that seldom exists in NZ.
NZ coaches also share information regularly. Over the past year SA has held several “coaching indabas”, which have only served to underline how isolated thinking is in this country.
The fact that coaches have to be invited to a forum to sit down and share knowledge is an indictment of how damaged the SA system is. In NZ their Super Rugby coaches are in constant contact with each other and with All Black coach Steve Hansen. Those Super Rugby coaches also work with the All Blacks as unofficial assistant coaches. It helps that they are all employed by the NZRFU.
John Mitchell often shared information with other SA coaches when he was in charge of the Lions. And his superiors rapped him over the knuckles for it.
Laugh at the Stormers, Bulls, Lions and Sharks all you will as they stumble to more defeats in NZ, but we really should be weeping because SA doesn’t have a system which promotes excellence, intelligence, skills development and inclusion.