SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia's bid to break the Super Rugby stranglehold of their New Zealand rivals looks set to go on for at least another two weeks after the New South Wales Waratahs blew an opportunity to end the streak at 37 matches on Saturday night.
The Waratahs enjoyed three quarters of the possession against the Auckland Blues but still failed to become the first Australian team to beat opposition from the other side of the Tasman Sea in 38 matches since May 27, 2016.
The Blues might be by far the poorest of the five New Zealand franchises but it was only courtesy of a late try from Michael Hooper that the losing margin was restricted to three points at 24-21.
The chances of the stranglehold being broken next week look bleak with the Waratahs heading to Christchurch to take on the might of the Canterbury Crusaders, the champions and competition leaders who crushed the Melbourne Rebels 55-10 on Friday.
The Queensland Reds have the next chance after that when they visit the Wellington Hurricanes on May 18, although form suggests the Waratahs' match against the Otago Highlanders the following day might be a better bet.
Should they fail, the Waratahs would have another turn against the Waikato Chiefs on May 26, a day shy of the two-year anniversary of their 45-25 win over the same opposition that remains the last Australian success.
"It's a big narrative," said Waratahs captain Hooper.
"We can only control what we're doing, and the other teams are probably going to say the same thing, but we've got another three games against these guys, three good cracks and we're going to focus week to week and this one hurts.
"It is disappointing, but we've got to go again. Every game's tough. We're fully aware of that."
New Zealand teams have dominated Super Rugby for the last few years but they have shown in recent weeks that they can be beaten by big, physical sides with Argentina's Jaguares, for example, winning away at the Blues and the Chiefs.
Extrapolating Super Rugby form to the test arena is often misleading but it must be a concern for Australia coach Michael Cheika that a team like the Waratahs, which contains most of the leading Wallabies, are failing to fire.
The elimination of the Western Force was supposed to concentrate Australia talent in the remaining four franchises and while it may be early to expect significant results, it must also be a worry that only the Waratahs have a winning record.
Australia did at least manage to beat the All Blacks last year but they will kick off this international season in June with a tough assignment in a three-test series against Six Nations champions Ireland.
(Reporting by Nick Mulvenney; Editing by Peter Rutherford)