Is Super Rugby failure a bad omen for Springboks in World Cup year?
The flip side is Bok players could benefit from an extra week of rest
Cape Town — An SA side missing out on Super Rugby semifinals is a rare occurrence, with 2019 being only the fourth time in 24 editions of the tournament since 1996.
Interestingly‚ two of those occasions were in the World Cup years of 2003 and 2015 and both were statistically SA’s worst two returns at the World Cup.
The other year an SA team missed out on Super Rugby semis was in 2002‚ which was the nation’s worst year in Test rugby until the annus horribilis of 2016.
In 2003 the Boks lost to England in the group stages and then slumped to a 29-9 quarterfinal loss against New Zealand in what remains SA’s heaviest Rugby World Cup (RWC) defeat.
SportsLIVE Podcast: Prisoners beat Police & Afcon Special
In 2015 the team were shocked 34-32 by Japan in their opening game in the biggest upset in RWC history. But the Boks rallied to make the semifinals before losing 20-18 to eventual winners the All Blacks.
So the portents are not good for Springbok success at RWC 2019 on the basis of Super Rugby form.
Missing out on the final fortnight of Super Rugby is a general indication of the collective weaknesses of SA’s top franchises but does it necessarily translate to a weak Bok team?
The reality is that the Boks have been weak regardless of their Super Rugby form for three years since their bronze medal finish at RWC 2015.
Of the 39 Tests played since the last World Cup in England‚ the Springboks have won 18‚ lost 19 and there have been two draws. That is just shy of a 47% winning ratio.
And that has happened with the Lions making the Super Rugby final on three consecutive occasions in the same period.
More worryingly, though‚ the Boks have also suffered record losses to the All Blacks (57-0 in Albany) and 57-15 in Durban and also lost to Italy for the first time (20-18 in 2016).
The Azzuri and All Blacks are both group opponents later in 2019.
Of those 18 wins‚ only six out of 20 have been away from home.
Japan is neutral territory for 19 of the 20 teams competing‚ but the Boks’ inability to win away from home is a huge concern.
Which is at least one area where the 2019 Super Rugby returns have been more positive.
In nine away games against New Zealand opposition (the gold standard of measurement) SA teams won one‚ but drew three with five defeats.
In 2018 that number was one win and nine losses in 10 matches. In 2017 SA teams lost seven out of seven in New Zealand and in 2016 they managed two wins and seven defeats in nine games.
It might be straw clutching but there is a definite improvement on the road‚ although it is hardly much to crow about.
Bok coach Rassie Erasmus had a 50% winning ratio in 2018‚ but has demonstrated that his side has come on since the mess that was 2016 and 2017.
An away win over the All Blacks in Wellington in 2018 was the obvious highlight, while beating France in Paris was another positive tick.
Even the controversial defeat to England at Twickenham was positive‚ because the Boks were hard done by‚ by officials that day.
Super Rugby success has seldom translated to Test success and given the attrition rate‚ it might be the best thing for SA’s battered players to have an extra week of rest and preparation for the huge Test season ahead.
Or it could be a bad omen.