South Africa have just made a clean sweep of their northern counterparts, while Australia and New Zealand could potentially do the same. Why has Northern hemisphere rugby fallen off the pace?
Nick Pawson writes for Rugby 365 that England boss Martin Johnson has had a lot to answer to over the past couple weeks, as has Wales’ Grand Slam coach Warren Gatland. And their answers have been fairly mandatory: ‘We failed to finish off opportunities inside the opposition 22′; ‘We didn’t keep that up for the full 80 minutes’; ‘We’re a young squad’, etc.
Rather than the sides having failed to implement their respective game plans on match day, I believe the problems are a lot more fundamental.
Firstly, and more evidently, the Northern and Southern rugby calendars lack synergy, and therefore international squads are at different stages of evolvement come Test time.
South Africa, New Zealand and Australia have been playing Test rugby since June (bar a short break for provincial play-offs), whereas England, France, Wales and the likes have had a substantial post-June break whilst delving into intensive club commitments.
Every time the Southern teams under-perform on their respective year-end tours, the pundits put it down to fatigue. On the contrary perhaps. The Southern teams have had more time to familiarise themselves with their teammates, work at effective combinations, and build momentum.
Consistency builds confidence, and confidence wins games.
Secondly, the irrepressible European club season is surely a factor. France for example, sent a B-string squad out to Australasia in June due to French club finals and paid the price, while England, Wales and France had similar turnaround problems.
Yes, the SANZAR nations had also just come off a tough provincial season (the Super 14) in June, but we’re talking one tournament here, while the European club scene is a bit more extensive.
One look at the IRB world rankings might solve all of this in a jiffy. The top four sides are all from the Southern hemisphere…surely the player depth and quality is simply better south of the equator?
That would be the logical answer, but we know that the European nations can be competitive and, in England’s case at least, are capable of bringing home silverware.
Perhaps the autumn results thus far are a clear indication that the increasing professionalism of the club scene is now taking its toll – stinging the European nations the most with local first choices and emerging talent being ousted by foreign players. Let alone the club v country debacle, which has starved coaches of sufficient preparation time with their full squads.
Whatever the reasons, England and Wales have less than a week to tip the equatorial scales, if only by a fraction.Tweet