GARETH DUNCAN says the Cheetahs are likely to return from their overseas tour winless, which could have dire consequences ahead of the 2013 Super Rugby season.
Following defeats in their opening games against the Lions (27-25) and Bulls (51-19), the Cheetahs embark on a journey where they’ve failed so many times before: their Super Rugby overseas leg.
The Bloemfontein franchise has a horrid record against Australian and New Zealand teams. They’ve only managed 21 wins in 77 matches with two draws. Their record against Australian teams worsens to 12 wins in 50 matches with two draws – bad news considering they play the Brumbies and Rebels in their two opening outings on tour. Their record overseas is even more damning as they’ve only picked up two wins in their Super Rugby history.
There will be those who’ll point to the Cheetahs’ 23-3 away win over the Waratahs last season. However, that was their first victory in Australasia in 14 years (they beat the Highlanders 49-18 in 1997). After the Sydney shocker, they were defeated in their three other fixtures on the road against the Reds (41-8), Blues (29-22) and Highlanders (24-21).
There will also be those who’ll point out that the Cheetahs beat both the Brumbies and Rebels in 2011. However, those victories occurred in Bloemfontein, where the Cheetahs perform better with home ground advantage. The harsh reality is that they don’t do as well overseas. And considering the form they’ve shown in the opening rounds in South Africa, it’s unlikely they’ll be able to change their fortunes over the next couple of weeks. Testing trips against the Crusaders and Hurricanes in New Zealand thereafter see the odds of them triumphing on tour stacked heavily against them.
If the Cheetahs fail to achieve a win over the next month, it means they’ll return home on the back of a six-match losing streak. By then, Sanzar and Saru will have discussed and decided on the final plan for the Super Rugby format in 2013.
Despite Saru’s call to enter six teams next season, Sanzar CEO Greg Peters has stressed that the 15-team format can’t change because the current tournament model was sold to broadcast and commercial partners until 2015. With the Southern Kings being guaranteed a Super Rugby slot in the South African conference next year and Sanzar likely to stick to its guns, the only logical solution is for one of the least successful local franchises to make way through a promotion-relegation route. Merging two teams won’t be possible as all the South African teams have already stated that they won’t agree to it.
It’s only round three of the current season this weekend, but there are already signs that the Cheetahs are set for a massive Super Rugby struggle in 2012. We can only speculate what will happen next year, but one can expect the Cheetahs’ tournament participation to be under threat – no matter what solution Saru comes up with.