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Why South African teams are losing more than they should

Damian de Allende of the Stormers looks at the live screen during the round four Super Rugby match between the Highlanders and the Stormers Forsyth Barr Stadium on March 9, 2018 in Dunedin, New Zealand. (Photo by Dianne Manson/Getty Images)
Roar Guru
14th May, 2018
101
1916 Reads

As a South African supporter the current season of Super Rugby has been frustrating to put it mildly, losing matches we shouldn’t and sucking the hind leg of the Australian and New Zealand conferences.

I thought it prudent to collate some stats on the results in cross conferences matches. My apologies for not including the Jaguares and Sunwolves; it was more a country versus country analysis than per team.

The following statistics came out of the results.

South Africa versus New Zealand
South Africa New Zealand
Played 15 15
Wins 4 11
Points scored 407 444
Tries scored 50 60
Average score 27.1 29.6
Average tries 3.3 4
South Africa versus Australia
South Africa Australia
Played 10 10
Wins 4 5
Draws 1 1
Points scored 23.4 22.2
Tries scored 31 27
Average score 23 22.2
Average tries 3.1 2.7
New Zealand versus Australia
New Zealand Australia
Played 7 7
Wins 7 0
Points scored 260 116
Tries scored 35 14
Average score 37.1 16.6
Average tries 5 2
Siya Kolisi of the Stormers.

(Steve Haag/Gallo Images via Getty Images)

It is clear New Zealand is dominating the tournament – you just need to look at the log after 13 rounds and notice that log points-wise New Zealand should fill the top four slots with Crusaders on 42, Hurricanes on 41, Highlanders on 32 and Chiefs on 31. The Lions are situated in second position with 31 log points, having lost six of 12 matches, and the Waratahs with 26 log points and five losses from ten matches.

There is one telling statistic that shows why South African teams, although close in try-scoring and points-scoring, are losing more matches than they should.

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South Africa has lost nine of 11 close matches – seven points or less – whereas New Zealand has won seven of eight close matches and Australia has won four of seven close encounters.

I suppose I can wildly speculate why this is the case – and I do firmly believe referees play a role in results – as many of these matches were lost at the death. Game management is the biggest cause, and this goes hand in hand with poor decision-making, whether it is to relinquish possession in the final minutes, kicking possession away, poor ball retention, not playing the territory or poor discipline.

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Quite a number of these losses were attributed to a sequence of penalties, fairly or unfairly, causing the South African teams to relinquish territory and ultimately defending their red zone in the dying minutes.

Whichever way you want to explain those losses, this will be one of the more important challenges that will face Rassie Erasmus.

The one light at the end of the tunnel is that South Africa has embraced a positive brand of rugby. They are scoring plenty of tries and are creating many more opportunities; however, they are still naïve in their process to build a positive style of play. Too often poor decision-making produces risky plays and offloads, creating counter-attack opportunities for opponents.

They need to find synergy between the traditional strength of South African rugby, set piece, discipline in defence and how to transition into defensive mode from attack.

The good news for Australia is that they aren’t as far in the hole as they believe. For one, they have a better win rate against South Africa, and there is still plenty of opportunity to turn things around against the New Zealanders.

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