The Reds and Brumbies won in the republic on the weekend, and while the Reds win was mainly down to the coin-toss-esque nature of the South African conference, the Brumbies win was down to a stoic defensive effort and their 226 tackles.
What’s more, there’s every chance wins on tour will decide finals positions. The Lions jumped from ninth to fifth with their narrow win on Friday, and that’s possible because just five match points – the equivalent of one bonus-point win – separate 14th and fifth.
The Canberrans and Queenslanders are one and two points from the play-offs respectively thanks to these tour wins. Next the ACT team travel to Argentina, while the Reds will return home.
Their Australian counterparts, the Waratahs, are still to tour, which they will do from rounds 12 to 13, when they will play the Bulls and Lions. In a suddenly close Australian conference, this is where the Waratahs could succeed where the Rebels failed.
The Melbournians dropped a 28-point lead shortly after half-time against the Lions, which could really come back to bite them as the remaining Aussie teams bridge the gap between the conference leaders and the pack.
Now the Rebels are floundering, having lost three consecutive games to the Lions, Sharks and Stormers respectively, and they just went down to the Waratahs in Sydney.
For the Aussie teams, the reality is that any wins over New Zealand teams are important but too rare, and outside of derbies, South African matches, travel notwithstanding, are very winnable, especially with the republic’s conference the way it is.
Similar to what Brad Thorn told rugby.com.au, “we didn’t want to get back on the plane without having something to take back with us”.
Much has been made of the poor record against Kiwi teams throughout 2016, 2017 and, at times, 2018, but before this weekend, not since 2006 have two Australian teams both won in South Africa in one round, though it’s not often multiple Australian teams are on tour at once.
While the Brumbies won over there last year and took two wins home the year before, it’s not been a happy hunting ground traditionally. Take the Reds as an example: they’d not won there since 2004.
The New South Welshmen snatched a 32-30 win back in 2016 to further illustrate how difficult wins actually are to come by.
While the Saffa pool has been more up and down than a yo-yo, all five teams are in the top ten, while if the finals were next weekend, three teams would feature – more than the Aussie conference, where only the Rebels are on pole position.
It’s not a pretty stat for Rugby Australia, but it starts with the teams themselves. The Rebels could be kicking themselves come finals time about letting the lead drop against the Lions, but will they?