Damned statistics give Boks a snowball’s hope this weekend
Beating NZ at home is the toughest test in sport, but it has been done by SA before ... albeit a while ago
Beating the All Blacks in New Zealand is not an impossible task; it has happened, although only once this decade.
Springbok captain Siya Kolisi and his men need little reminder of how difficult it is to win in the land of the world champions – especially set against the backdrop of the Boks’ current woes with four defeats in seven outings this year already and only three wins in their last 15 away games.
But the Boks could turn it around and use the challenge as motivation because beating the All Blacks anywhere, let alone at home, has become one of the hardest things in sport to do. Since losing to the Springboks in Hamilton in 2009, which followed two losses to the Boks in SA earlier that season, the All Blacks have lost just one of their subsequent 57 home Tests with one draw. That’s a 96.5% winning ratio at home over nine years.
The British & Irish Lions, a composition of the best players from four countries, were the only team to beat the All Blacks on home soil in that period when they won the second Test 24-21 in 2017. It’s worth remembering that the All Blacks also played 50 minutes of that match with 14 men after Sonny Bill Williams was red-carded.
The sides drew the third Test a week later to deny either a series win, in what were the most competitive matches in NZ for the better part of a decade.
The Boks’ record in NZ since those heady 2009 days has been woeful, culminating in last year’s record 57-0 loss in Albany. The Boks have lost eight from eight against the All Blacks in that period with an average losing score of 33-11. In that time the Boks have scored just eight tries against the 35 (4.5 per game) scored by the All Blacks.
Between 1996 (the start of professionalism) and 2009 (the year of the last Bok win in NZ), SA won only three of 15 Tests, but the average losing score was 27-17. The All Blacks scored fewer tries (34) in nearly double the amount of matches pre-2009 while the Boks managed a more respectable 23 tries.
This decade, though, NZ’s dominance over the Boks, especially at home, has reached epidemic levels for anyone connected with the green and gold.
The All Blacks have taken their style of play, analysis and player depth to levels no other side can match while the Boks’ decline has gone from gradual to torrential in the space of a few years.
The loss of Juan Smith, Schalk Burger, John Smit, Os du Randt, Victor Matfield, Bakkies Botha, Bryan Habana, Fourie du Preez, Jaque Fourie, JP Pietersen, Ricky Januarie, Jean de Villiers, Bismarck du Plessis and Butch James to either retirement or overseas clubs in the past decade left the Boks in turmoil. Few, if any of those greats have been adequately replaced while NZ have shown that, through succession planning, steady leadership and competition for places, they are able to replace legends easily.
Dan Carter, possibly the greatest flyhalf to grace the game, retired after winning the 2015 World Cup. By the time he was gone, enter Beauden Barrett, who already had 30 Test caps as an understudy. Ditto Sam Cane for Richie McCaw. There is always a plan with the All Blacks and they stick to it regardless.
Perhaps there is a lesson in there for South Africans. Rassie Erasmus, unprompted, raised the notion of being fired this week. It may be a motivational tactic, or it may be a way of showing accountability. Or it could even be serious. But what it does show is that he is feeling the pressure and feeling insecure.
Building a team and trying to lay a foundation is going to be impossible if his side keeps losing. But given the statistical evidence, there is little chance of them doing so this weekend.