SA rugby blown away

15 April 2014 - 02:01 By Chumani Bambani
Lions coach John Mitchell is a worried man as his team face the tough task of picking themselves up from four back-to-back defeats. They tackle the Bulls on Saturday at Ellis Park Picture:
Lions coach John Mitchell is a worried man as his team face the tough task of picking themselves up from four back-to-back defeats. They tackle the Bulls on Saturday at Ellis Park Picture:
Image: LEE WARREN/GALLO IMAGES

The Sharks have been hugely successful so far in this year's Super 15, having won six of their seven games so far. But all the victories have been in South Africa.

And although former All Blacks and Lions coach John Mitchell remains hopeful that the Sharks and his former side, the Lions, might change how South African teams have fared, he cautioned against having too high an expectation from the log-leaders.

"The Sharks may be on top, but the competition is very even - there is no side sticking out," said Mitchell. "There are still plenty improvements needed before we can say they will dominate on the road as well. It's still anybody's competition."

The Bulls' loss to the Highlanders on Friday was the 10th game that SA teams have played in Australasia this season, and all have been defeats.

The Cheetahs were the first to tour, on the back of a confidence-boosting first-ever Super rugby win over the Bulls, but they were woeful overseas, losing all four of their matches.

Next were the Stormers. The Cape side had a below-par start to their campaign at home, but expectations were that they would turn their season around on tour. But it was not to be. Four losses out of four were all they could muster.

The Bulls are usually fearless on the road. On most overseas tours, the first match is usually a win in the bag, but history shows they struggle in their second - when jet lag starts to kick in, perhaps.

But the side, minus Victor Matfield, failed on their first assignment in Napier against the Hurricanes two weekends ago, going down 25-20 in a match they should have won. The tour would only get harder for them.

On Friday, in the 10th match on tour for the Cheetahs, Stormers and Bulls combined, the Pretoria side suffered another defeat, this time going down 20-27 to the Highlanders, adding further to SA teams' woes on tour.

Why are our teams not enjoying any success this season?

"It's a tough one. I don't really know but it is starting to be something to think about," Mitchell said. "It could maybe be the fact that SA teams are on the road longer than Australian and New Zealand sides."

The SA teams stay four weeks away from home - two in Australia, two in New Zealand - while the teams from across the Indian Ocean spend only two weeks in South Africa.

Mitchell added that, while the Cheetahs and Stormers were lacking form, the Bulls and Sharks suffered from the same thing - reliance on youngsters.

"For the Stormers and Cheetahs this is not their tournament," said Mitchell. "The Bulls lack experience in key positions. The Sharks also can't continue to bargain on a number of youngsters," said Mitchell.

After no wins in New Zealand, the Bulls will go in search of the elusive victory in Australia where they play the Waratahs in Sydney this weekend and then Western Force next week.

Next month the Sharks will begin their overseas journey in Australia against the Highlanders, while the Lions will be in New Zealand with a clash against the Chiefs.

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