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The Cheetahs’ and Bulls’ heroics at the weekend could be a catalyst for a successful year for South African Super Rugby franchises abroad.
What an exceptional weekend it was for South African sides. Not since April 2009 have South African teams managed a hat-trick of victories of New Zealand sides on a single weekend, and those were all achieved at home.
You will have to look all the way back to April 2001 for the first and only other time that South African teams won home and abroad against Kiwi teams, such is the rarity of the weekend’s feat.
The Cheetahs set the tone with their first ever win over the Highlanders in Invercargill; only their seventh win against New Zealand opposition, and their biggest ever victory over a Kiwi team.
The Stormers claimed the Chiefs’ scalp in arguably the match of the season thus far before the Bulls completed the sweep with a first ever win in Auckland.
Taking nothing away from the Stormers, who finally displayed some variety and reaped the rewards, but the true stars of the weekend were the gutsy men from Bloemfontein and Pretoria, who paved the way for their compatriots to achieve success on Australasian soil this year.
The Cheetahs win in particular will instil much confidence – especially in the Southern Kings – after they were thrashed 45-3 in their tour opener against the Chiefs the previous week. It showed the newcomers that a swift turnaround is possible and that not all is lost when a team drop their first match on tour.
The overseas success young stars like Johan Goosen, Raymond Rhule and Arno Botha, who are destined to have long international careers, enjoyed at the weekend will bode well for Springbok rugby as well as it will systematically chip away at the aura of invincibility New Zealand have long benefited from.
The Kings are the next South African team to head abroad and their inaugural tour could not get off to a more challenging start as they will face the Crusaders in Christchurch next Saturday.
From there, they play the Hurricanes before they cross the Tasman to battle the Brumbies and Melbourne Rebels. Realistically, their best bet is putting one over the Rebels, but even that will be no easy feat considering they will in all likelihood be coming off three defeats.
The Stormers kick-off their away leg against the Hurricanes in Round 11 before they play the Blues, Waratahs and Rebels, and on current form they should return with at least 10 points.
The Sharks’ excursion, which also gets underway in Round 11, consists of matches against the Chiefs, Highlanders, Reds and Western Force over consecutive weeks.
The weekend also reiterated the true beauty of Super Rugby, watching what has sadly become known as cross-conference clashes with the controversial introduction of a three-conference system last year.
The Newlands and Eden Park matches were instant classics because the contrasting styles of South African and New Zealand rugby collided head on. Australian derbies are notoriously stale affairs, and South African derbies are threatening to head in the same direction.
The styles are just too similar and the players know each other inside out, which often lead to teams being content to play low risk rugby and attempt to force the opposition into making mistakes.
Home and away derbies should be restricted to domestic competitions while Super Rugby should return to its roots and have at least all teams playing each other once on an annual basis.
By Quintin van Jaarsveld
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