Duane Heath

Stats show Boks have hope

2004-05-07 07:27

Cape Town - For someone who was never any good at maths, I've become quite a sucker for stats.

I can't recall who it was that said that there are "lies, damned lies and statistics", but I'd venture a guess that they must have caught a Bok game or two before penning the phrase.

With the first Test of the year just five weeks away, one thing's for certain: win them all, lose them all, or win some and lose some, Jake White's men in green will pass some unavoidable statistical milestones during the course of their 13-match season.

Yes, 13. The opponents are: Ireland (three), Wales (twice), New Zealand (twice), Australia (twice), Pacific Islands, England, Scotland and Argentina.

The last time a Springbok team undertook such a taxing schedule was in 1997 - although tellingly it took two coaches to get through that crazy workload: Carel du Plessis oversaw the infamous loss to the British Lions during his eight-game tenure, of which he only won three. Nick Mallett then took the team to Europe and won five in a row and we all know about the success that followed.

Statistically, though, the Boks have had it rough of late.

In the four years stretching back to June 10, 2000 (a 51-18 win over Canada in East London) the record books show that South Africa won just half of the 46 Tests they played in between the 1999 and 2003 World Cups. A win ratio of 50% made the period the worst in Springbok rugby history.

An escape from reality

Desperate supporters, faced with the shattered myth of Bok superiority, have sought solace in the stats that point to the Boks, over a 113-year history, still having won nearly 63% of their games.

What was I saying about damned lies? The history books might have looked impressive coming out of isolation, but with every passing season, those numbers become nothing more than an escape from reality.

Since losing 4-0 to Great Britain on July 30, 1891 in Port Elizabeth, South Africa have played 302 Tests, of which they've won 189. The "lost" column stands at 95 - and counting.

Unless White can fashion a magical turnaround in Bok fortunes, the statisticians will record an unwanted century sometime during the course of this international season. (But then who knows, with enough magic, we could be notching up a double ton of wins instead.)

For long-suffering fans who think things can't get any worse, there's always 1965 to give us hope.

Purple patches

Today men such as Frik du Preez, Mannetjies Roux, Jan Ellis and Jannie Engelbrecht are living legends and rightfully so, but back then, for a season at least, they were just a bunch of no-hopers who played eight Tests and managed to lose seven of them. And no, they weren't all against the All Blacks and Wallabies, either. South Africa went down against Ireland in Dublin and, believe it or not, against Scotland at Murrayfield!

If there's one thing that statistics shows us, it's that purple patches are the exception, not the rule. The Boks' glory run under Nick Mallett came after a home loss to the Lions in 1997 and before the infamous 28-0 loss to the All Blacks in Dunedin in 1999.

Hopefully, in years to come, fans will be able to say that the Rudolf Straeuli years preceded the start of another golden era in Springbok rugby under Jake White.

The cynics will shout 'never!' but the numbers never lie. A good run by the men in green is, if nothing else, a statistical inevitability. The wheel always turns, but whether it rolls around quickly enough to get the Boks in gear this year is another story.

Do you agree? Tell Duane what you think.

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