If you look back at rugby’s great North-South divide over the past 10 years, there is no doubting the Southern Hemisphere has been streets ahead. The Kiwi skill, the Australian flair, and the South African grunt were unmatched and irrepressible for well over a decade.
Just as recently as last year with the World Cup, played in Northern Hemisphere conditions, the North were unable to cash in.
England, despite home ground advantage, was embarrassed, Ireland slipped up BIG time, and Wales flattered to deceive. While the north were imploding, it looked like slowly, there was yet another Southern Hemisphere Powerhouse emerging in the form of Argentina, to create, much to the disappointment of Northern Hemisphere rugby, an all-South semi-final.
The North’s 2015 World Cup Slip Up…A Blessing In Disguise!?
Yes, Northern Hemisphere rugby had undoubtedly slumped to a new low in 2015, with many critics, including ourselves at The Sport Freak, posting how Northern Hemisphere rugby are decades behind the South, and not likely to catch up in the near future….How wrong we were!
Turns out the North’s embarrassment in their own backyard might very well have been a blessing in disguise, as it is undeniable that the gap between North and South is fast closing if it hasn’t done so already!?
True, it is only two games into the international Test season for the South, but a rare series win to England in Australia, a historic Irish victory on South African soil, the first in 110-years, and some accomplished performances by the Welsh have seen the Southerners stumble (a little?) in their dominant swagger.
There is no doubting there is a change in the air with the teams in the North getting stronger, or is it that the Rugby Championship teams are stalling in their drive towards continued greatness?
Perhaps it is the great wheel of history turning where one superpower is slowly starting to fall, just for another to take its place?
Whatever the reason might be, one big contributor to the rapidly diminishing gap between the two hemispheres are the coaches, who we believe are playing a large part in the North’s recent revival.
Coaches…Friend Turned Foe
Look at the coaches of England, Ireland, Wales and Scotland. What are the common denominators? Well, they are all Southern Hemisphere coaches. Three Kiwis and an Aussie are definitely ruling the roost in terms of coaching ingenuity.
England serving as prime example, ditching countryman Stuart Lancaster after the World Cup – where they ended up eighth on the rankings – only to pick up Eddie Jones and skyrocket to second on the IRB world rankings in a matter of months. Impressive stuff!
It can’t be denied that the master tacticians of the Southern hemisphere have a large part to play in the growth of the Northern hemisphere rugby revival, but does that necessarily mean that the North is only catching up, or could it be that they will soon be overtaking?
We are at pains to say that we think the North’s trajectory is indeed on course to overlap the South’s in the (very) near future, and unfortunately, we believe the players are largely to blame. While the craftsman cannot blame his tools, we think the Southern Hemisphere coaches have every right to.
Lack Of Ambition From Foreign Based Players?
Rugby players are gaining global superstar status very easily these days, especially those from the South. Contracts to play in Japan, and Europe, for clubs overflowing with powerful currencies, can easily go to a player’s head. This mostly relates to the Springbok players who have almost free reign to make their Yen, Euro and Pound and still have the privilege to represent their country.
Watching the first Springbok Test against Ireland, It was quite clear that the rich French lifestyle had affected Duane Vermeulen as he lumbered, uninterested, from ruck to ruck. Meanwhile, James Haskell, often the focus of many “fan attacks”, was putting on a match-winning display in Brisbane thanks to being hungry to impress his new coach.
Turbulent Times Ahead For Southern Hemisphere Rugby
The Australians are trying to counter it, by means of policy changes, which has seen many players run home for a shot in the Gold jersey, but it is clear they are not up for it.
Luckily, for New Zealand rugby supporters, the Kiwis are yet again the exception, where they have such good structures in place that they hardly seem to feel the departure of some of the greatest names to ever take to a rugby field, with a long list of players all seamlessly slotting in for veterans such as, McCaw, Carter, Nonu, Mealamu, Smith and Woodcock.
But the problem remains that with all the resources the Northern teams finally have their hands on, and the apparent lackadaisical and unconcerned attitude of the Southern sides, there could be a changing of the guard sooner rather than later, and yes this also applies to the almighty All Blacks.
A real fire needs to be lit under the players, for their tactical and coaching advantage has been met by their Northern rivals, and as such, it is exposing a real lack of skill and desire closer to home.
Turbulent times ahead for Southern Hemisphere rugby…The North Is Fast
Approaching catching up