Picture: 123RF/RADUTUTA
Picture: 123RF/RADUTUTA

There was a sense in SA that Super Rugby would become a more balanced tournament after it was cut from 18 to 15 teams‚ but the stats don’t back that up.

The body that operates Super Rugby, made up of SA, New Zealand, Australia and Argentina (Sanzaar), decided to restructure the tournament in 2018 with a three-conference‚ 15-team format: five teams from New Zealand‚ four from Australia‚ four from SA‚ one from Japan and one from Argentina.

New Zealand retained five teams. SA and Australia lost two and three teams, respectively.

The theory was that it would condense the playing depth of those two countries and improve the general standard of Super Rugby.

The culling of one team seems to be working well for the Aussies, as their teams are proving to be more competitive‚ although they have yet to face opponents from New Zealand in 2018.

But for South African teams, the situation is worse than it was in 2017. So far, South African franchises playing outside the country have lost nine out of nine matches.

The Stormers and the Bulls both went 0-3 on their Australasian tours where they played against two Australian teams and four New Zealand teams collectively.

The Sharks are currently 0-2 on tour having lost to the Brumbies and Rebels, and the Lions — with a full-strength team — lost against the Jaguares in Buenos Aires on Saturday.

The average losing score on the road by South African teams is 36-21; South African teams have scored 26 tries and conceded 43 in those nine matches.

Losing in New Zealand is not a new experience but wins in Australia have been a little easier to come by‚ particularly in recent seasons when Australia’s resources were stretched with five franchises.

In 2017, South African teams won five of eight away matches in Australia. They are winless in four this season.

Winning on the road has not been easy and historically SA’s teams win only 29% of their matches in Australia — 55 out of 187.

In New Zealand that stat is much worse with a mere 21% winning ratio — 50 wins out of 242 matches. The Sharks‚ with a 15-14 win over the Highlanders in 2016, were the last SA team to win in New Zealand.

Since then South African teams have lost 14 in a row in New Zealand and it’s a statistic unlikely to change this weekend when the Sharks face the Crusaders in Christchurch.

In the same period, New Zealand teams have won 16 of 25 matches in SA — 64% — to further underline that country’s dominance.

The last time an Australian side won in New Zealand was in 2015 and 29 matches have elapsed since the Waratahs’ 29-24 win over the Hurricanes.

SA has more players than Australia‚ but clearly local playing resources at the very top of the game are stretched thin due to nearly 350 SA players earning a living in Europe‚ Britain‚ Ireland and Japan.

Although the Australians have managed to consolidate some of their resources by cutting one team from Super Rugby‚ the Cheetahs and Kings continue to exist in Pro-14‚ which has left the player base as thin as it was before.