History suggests the Reds have a good chance of upsetting the Sharks in Brisbane on Saturday.
The Sharks are unbeaten in four matches and have won two successive tour matches in the process. But statistics suggest it is always the third which proves to be a stumbling block.
Three matches into a four-match tour, homesickness and fatigue have to be factored into play when assessing the Sharks’ chances in Brisbane. Traditionally players are up for the last match of the tour as they are buoyed by the knowledge that they return to more familiar surroundings thereafter and are motivated to finish the tour well. But the third is the crucial fixture.
The Sharks have lost eight and won five of their 13 third match on tour. When they’ve won they’ve averaged an impressive 33 points but they’ve struggled in defeat, averaging just 22 points.
Two of those eight defeats have come against the Reds. A more telling statistic, however, is that the Sharks have won just once in their last six matches at the Suncorp Stadium. In fact, that win two years ago was their only win in their last 13 matches in Australia.
The Sharks are widely expected to secure an easy victory in Brisbane. The Reds have won just one of their four matches and, on paper, have vastly inferior personnel. The Sharks boast 14 Springboks in the match 22, 11 of those in the starting line-up.
But the stats prove that one has to take into account more than pure form when predicting a result.
Still, coach John Plumtree and his side will be bitterly disappointed if they fail to bank at least four points from this fixture. They would have targeted it as the easiest of the tour, despite their history in Australia. Victory is essential because they desperately need to carry momentum into a tricky fixture against the Force in Perth next weekend.
They have got themselves into a position where they have a massive opportunity to become South Africa’s most successful side on tour and in so doing make a significant step towards finishing top of the log at the conclusion of the league phase. The other front runners, the Waratahs, Bulls and Hurricanes have yet to tour and are likely to stumble on the road given their schedules.
Overcoming this psychological hurdle is key if they are to realise that goal. They undoubtedly have the talent to go unbeaten on tour, but whether they have the mental fortitude remains to be seen. Championship winning teams have both.
By Ryan Vrede