As Australia's Super Rugby teams dust themselves off after another disappointing weekend for their players and supporters, there is likely to be little respite; four are in action against New Zealand sides in the next round and it wouldn't surprise to see all four losing.

The Waratahs, Reds, Rebels, Brumbies and Force have played a total of seven matches against New Zealand opposition this season and have won zero.

Only one Australian team won a match over the latest round - the Waratahs fighting back from a 19-point deficit to beat conference rivals the Rebels. The Force lost to the Crusaders, the Brumbies lost to the Highlanders and the Reds lost to the Jaguares.

The Brumbies lead the competition's weakest conference with only 11 competition points, a number which has them fourth on the points table ahead of far more successful teams such as the Chiefs, Jaguares, Sharks and Hurricanes.


These are worrying times indeed for Australian Rugby, who are facing pressure to cut one of their teams against a backdrop of the game's plummeting popularity in the country, and it will almost certainly get worse before it gets better.

In the next round the Highlanders host the Rebels, the Blues host the Force, the Hurricanes travel to Brisbane to play the Reds and the Crusaders go to Sydney to play the Waratahs. All the Kiwi teams are likely to be favourites to win and in some cases the odds on a thrashing will be narrow.

For instance, the Hurricanes, rested after a bye, should fancy their chances of putting a big score on the Reds, who must travel home after a loss to the Jaguares in Buenos Aires, a performance hindered by the first-half yellow cards in two minutes shown to Eto Nabuli and Kane Douglas.

So far, so predictable for many rugby supporters in New Zealand who watched as the Aussies struggled last year too (last year New Zealand teams won 22, lost 3 and drew 1 to Aussie sides), but it is the amateur game's struggles across the ditch which should be a concern for those hoping for closer Bledisloe Cup battles than we have seen in the past.

The Wallabies last held the cup in 2002. Last year, the All Blacks put 42 points on them in Sydney and 29 in Wellington before giving them another kicking, 37-10, at Eden Park in the third test.

The year 2002 is especially relevant because a recent survey in Australia by research firm Roy Morgan has revealed that rugby participation has fallen an enormous 63 per cent from 148,000 in 2001.

According to the survey, rugby is now only the 26th most popular sport with 55,000 participants. Football has been the big winner, overtaking golf and tennis to sit top of the list with 623,000 participants, an increase of 46 per cent.

Super Rugby spectators and viewers in Australia have also decreased since the addition of the Perth-based Force in 2005 and Melbourne-based Rebels in 2010, two teams in danger of getting the axe as Sanzaar orders a re-think of the competition structure.

A particular worry will be how New Zealand derby matches are far more popular than those involving Australian teams, a sure sign that the talent-base has been diluted.

The Highlanders v Crusaders match in Dunedin in round two rated higher on Australian TV that weekend than the Brumbies v Sharks in Canberra and even the Force v Reds derby.

New Zealand Rugby chief executive Steve Tew, asked on Newstalk ZB by Mark Watson yesterday about the apparent need for a cull to the 18-team Super Rugby competition after a previous expansion strategy, said: "We in the end agreed to an extra South African team largely because politically they said they needed to add the Kings and said they couldn't take anyone else away.

"We argued quite hard that we didn't think that was right for the competition but in the end we conceded it. The Australians have obviously fought long and hard to go from three to four and then from four to five.

"The reality now though is when you look at the numbers watching both live and on television in those two markets they are going backwards at a rate of knots. If we don't listen then we're going to be in big trouble."

Aussie battlers:
0-7 to Kiwi teams this season

Rebels 18 Blues 56
Crusaders 17 Brumbies 13
Hurricanes 71 Rebels 6
Reds 20 Crusaders 22
Rebels 13 Chiefs 27
Crusaders 45 Force 17
Brumbies 13 Highlanders 18

This week
Highlanders v Rebels
Blues v Force
Reds v Hurricanes
Waratahs v Crusaders

* Last year: Played 26, NZ wins 22, one draw, three losses. Adding insult to mediocrity 13 of those 22 New Zealand wins were by more than 13 points.

* In 2015 New Zealand won the head-to-head 15-7. In 2001 Australia won the head-to-head 7-8, the only season New Zealand failed to have a side in the Super 12 semifinals. The Brumbies won the title that year after defeating the Reds in the semifinals before beating the Sharks in the final.

* The Crusaders went 5-0 against Australian teams last year and are 3-0 this season. They last lost to an Australian team in round 15, 2015 a 32-22 loss in Sydney.

* Rebels and Force went 0-5 last year. Rebels 0-2 this year (still to play Highlanders away and Crusaders home). Force play Blues, Chiefs, Highlanders and Hurricanes.

* Australian teams on New Zealand soil - 0 wins the last two seasons. The last Aussie side to win across this side of the Tasman was the Waratahs against the Hurricanes in round 10 in 2015. The Rebels won in Christchurch in round one in 2015 as the only other Aussie win in New Zealand.

* It happened three times in 2014 (Waratahs over Chiefs, Force over Highlanders and Brumbies over Hurricanes). Surprisingly the Blues are the only New Zealand franchise to go unbeaten at home against Australian sides since 2014.