Before the Super Rugby quarterfinals, I watched the New Zealand television rugby show The Breakdown, hosted by Jeff Wilson. The former All Black winger and his panel were convinced that the Lions had no chance of winning the competition, let alone advancing to the final.
According to them, the Hurricanes had “a free game in Canberra against the Brumbies and a free game in Johannesburg against the Lions’’ before returning to New Zealand for the final. A week later, they got so carried away that they even tipped the Canes to host the final should the Chiefs sneak one past the Crusaders in the other semifinal.
The underlying factor in their reluctance to give the Lions too much credit was the fact that Joburg’s Pride had to contend with the Australian Conference this season and not the seemingly superior New Zealand Conference. Wilson scoffed at the poor Aussie conference and about the fact that Kiwi sides boasted a perfect 26-0 win-loss record over their trans-Tasman rivals this season, an ever-so-subtle hint that the Lions had no business topping the overall standings.
But they conveniently forgot to mention that the Lions also managed a 5-0 clean sweep against the Aussies and that you can only play what is in front of you. The panel also raved about the Stormers being such a quality team based on the fact that they played the New Zealand Conference this season and managed to beat the Chiefs and Blues.
But they failed to mention that the lowly Sunwolves also beat the feeble Blues and that the Stormers conceded no less than 27 tries during their three matches in New Zealand. Yes, their win against the Chiefs was memorable, but a week later the visiting Lions made them look very ordinary in their own backyard. But clearly, the Kiwis didn’t bother following an SA derby that would obviously seem inferior to their supposed high standard.
A guy named Gregor Paul’s scathing column in the New Zealand Herald in May seemed to drive their general feeling home. “With all due respect to the Lions, who play a nice brand of football and aren’t a bad team at all, it will be ridiculous, bordering on wrong, should they end up being crowned Super Rugby champions in 2017. For the good of Super Rugby – southern hemisphere rugby – the Lions can’t become champions this year.
It will turn a comedy into a tragedy,” was the rubbish the disillusioned Kiwi uttered. For the record, the Lions topped the overall table last season after the penultimate round before their decision to send a weakened side to Buenos Aires cost them a home final. And that in a season when they did play in the New Zealand Conference.
Since the start of 2016, the Lions have beaten all five Kiwi sides on offer, have a win-loss record of 5-4 against them of which the record at the competition’s business stands at 3-1. And quite ironically, in their four knockout matches at Ellis Park over the last two seasons, it wasn’t the Crusaders, or the Highlanders or the Hurricanes that ran them the closest.
In fact it wasn’t a Kiwi side at all, but the Sharks … who actually also didn’t come up against a single New Zealand team this year. I really think these Kiwis are living in la-la land.