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Southern teams hold autumn supremacy

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Tom Fordyce | 14:59 UK time, Sunday, 29 November 2009

Cardiff Central railway station early on a Sunday morning in November, freezing rain coming in sideways on a gale off the bay, the only colour for miles around the cherry-red signs on the Brains brewery, is one of the less uplifting places to begin your day.

But while the majority of huddled travellers looked as happy as naturists at the North Pole, the small pockets of gold-shirted Australia fans were wearing smiles as bright as Bondi bikinis.

Even as the rain turned to sleet and the grey clouds descended even lower overhead, you could understand their optimism. After a tempestuous few weeks, their team is heading for sunnier times. If only the same could be said of all the northern hemisphere teams.

Thank heavens for the rays of sunshine coming from Ireland. Without the stirring deeds of Declan Kidney's men in Dublin, this autumn would have been a bleak one indeed for the Six Nations teams.

A totting-up of the Test tallies from this month provides initial optimism. Of the 18 matches between northern and southern hemisphere teams, the north won nine, lost eight and drew one. Narrow it down to home nations vs the southerners and it appears almost cheery - seven wins to five defeats.

Take an inexperienced Samoa and Fiji and an under-strength Argentina out of the frame, however, and the outlook is rather gloomier. In 11 matches between Six Nations and Tri-Nations teams, the south comes out on top by seven wins to three. In eight matches between the home nations and the big three, the north came out on top just twice.

Then there's the way the points have been scored. Six Nations sides have managed just four tries between them in 11 matches against the Tri-Nations teams, while their opponents have run in 23. In a combined five hours and 20 minutes against the Wallabies and All Blacks, England and Wales failed to score a single try. On one side a drought, on the other a flood.

If that's enough to have you manning the lifeboats, keep your feet on the turf for the time being. Grim while those stats are - and that try tally is the very definition of the word - there are happier portents lurking in the murk.

This might be a slightly contrary way of approaching it, but the home nations weathered worse a year ago. In 2008, the Six Nations v Tri-Nations scoreboard read played 20, lost 19. This time around, Ireland's win at Croke Park on Saturday made it three wins on the bounce over the Springboks in Dublin. France rumbled the world champions off their perch and Scotland beat Australia for the first time in 27 years.

Even amongst the deluge of opposition points, the forecast was upbeat. A straw poll of the Wales players in the Millennium Stadium on Saturday night produced a defiant message - the gulf in class between the hemispheres is not as wide as it might appear.

"I think it's narrowing," said Stephen Jones. "I know that's hard to back up with the way we played against the Wallabies, but we're much better than that."

James Hook concurred. "I don't think there's a big difference," he said. "Obviously the performance on Saturday showed there was, but overall I'm not sure there is. Australia showed that they were right at the top of their game, and we had a big dip. Against New Zealand we were almost there."

"The game is changing, and northern hemisphere rugby is catching up," reckons Jamie Roberts.

Not everyone who watched the game shared that sunny disposition. A large section of the crowd at the Millennium Stadium booed their side off, while in the concrete bowels of the ground afterwards, both Warren Gatland and Shaun Edwards looked as stormy-faced in their press conference as Martin Johnson had in a month of his at Twickenham.

Going into the Australia match Edwards had described it as a "pivotal" occasion, likening Wales' series of matches against the Tri-Nations teams in the next 12 months to those won by Clive Woodward's England in the build-up to the 2003 World Cup. Afterwards, he was unable to disguise the magnitude of his disappointment.

walesaustralia595bloggetty.jpg The Wales players troop dejectedly off the Millennium Stadium pitch after the defeat by Australia

"This is my worst day with Wales so far," he admitted, and Gatland did not disagree with him. Since the pair inspired their charges to that famous Grand Slam in 2008, Wales have lost to South Africa three times, New Zealand twice and also suffered reverses against France, Ireland and Australia. Their biggest scalp in the whole of 2009 was England at home, and that's hardly the badge of honour it once was.

Australia had arrived in Cardiff fearing their eighth defeat of the year, which would have matched the worst-ever seasons in their 110-year history. Despite that, Wales' 34-year wait for back-to-back wins over the Wallabies goes on.

So what do the Six Nations sides need to do to match their Tri-Nation counterparts?

"In the modern game, the aerial battle and the breakdown are such a massive part of things," says Edwards, "and on Saturday we were second-best in both. Every single one of their tries came from a turnover. On top of that, the Australian defence was magnificent, while some of our tackling in the first half was very disappointing."

"The southern hemisphere teams are more clinical," says Hook. "When they're in your half they score points, and that was the nail in the coffin for us this autumn."

"They are faster than us to the breakdown," said Jones. "The intensity at the contact area," says Roberts. "In the leagues we play in, it is nowhere as intense."

What of key injuries to the northern Six Nations sides? Much has been made of England's 40% injury rate, but on Saturday Wales were without five main men at the start - Ryan Jones, Mike Phillips, Adam Jones, Lee Byrne and Gavin Henson - and by the end had lost three more Lions in Shane Williams, Leigh Halfpenny and Matthew Rees.

"I'm not sure it would have made a vast difference," former Wales scrum-half Robert Jones told BBC Radio 5 Live. "Wales were slower all over the pitch. Australia showed that despite their defeat last week they deserve to be in the world's top three, and have set the bar high in terms of their attacking ability and keeping the ball. They've got major threats all over the park."

Where the northern hemisphere teams have had success this autumn, they have thrived in the areas where Edwards identifies Wales fell short - Scotland's heroic, indefatigable defence against the Wallabies, Rob Kearney's glorious gobbling of every high ball Morne Steyn sent his way in Dublin and Jonathan Sexton's commensurate kicking cool, France's old-fashioned forward domination of the tired-looking Springboks.

That Scotland and France suffered such rude reverses to Argentina and New Zealand this weekend only highlights the work Andy Robinson and Marc Lièvremont have ahead of them.

The optimism engendered by that Murrayfield win over the Wallabies was punctured by a Pumas team so underpowered that half their squad have less than 10 caps each, and Les Bleus de 2009 remain a case study of inconsistency - beating the All Blacks in their own backyard, thrashed by England, turning over South Africa and then shipping five tries to a New Zealand side who had looked competent but far from free-running in their other autumnal action.

For these embattled northern hemisphere coaches, Ireland's accomplishments provide a blueprint to be studied.

There is the careful blooding of young talent over the past 12 months (take note, Martin Johnson), a self-perpetuating self-assurance born of success with club and country and a speed of thought and deed that casts an unflattering light over some of their Six Nations counterparts.

While some of the Lions players have come back from South Africa heavy of foot and short of form, Ireland's - Heaslip, Kearney, O'Connell and O'Driscoll in particular - returned with the deep-seated conviction that the southern hemisphere teams are within reach.

Match their physicality, Kearney says, give as good as you get at the breakdown, and convert pressure to points. The outlook needn't be quite as bleak as the last month might suggest.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Glad someone in the North is realistic. Fact is the worst Australian team for sometime, a merely competent All Blacks and an exhausted and depleted South Africa made up a 7 to 3 ratio out of the 11 matches between Six Nations and Tri-Nations teams. Notably none of the Tri-Nations teams made excuses about a long season, injuries, tough scheduling or poor refs.

    England are now a basket case; France flightier than they ever have been; Ireland have peaked and when their ageing overrated underachievers (BOD et al) retire will be back to the depths mediocrity and early World Cup exits; Scotland will have to wait another 44 tests to beat a Tri-Nations team (ps: who wants to watch a team of non-passing tacklers playing with one goal kicker and anyway - division 5 darts at Blackpool is more interesting). Indeed Wales offer the only glimmer of hope as when they put their minds to it they can actually play and they are of course coached by a Southerner.

    Bottom line: The North remain inferior and having managed only one World Cup out of six do not look likely to level that ledger this century.

    Wait for the hysteria surrounding this blunt assessment.

  • Comment number 2.

    Indeed Wales offer the only glimmer of hope

    How do wales offer the only glimmer of hope,they put up the worst performance against australia out of all the europeans aswell as the fact that australia were at the end of a long hard tour,and how are ireland overrated,healy,heaslip ferris kearney fitzgerald earls sexton are all in their early 20's,hayes is the only one who could retire in the next year or so

  • Comment number 3.

    toughbiscuit is clearly working through some stuff, this blog gives him a voice for his anger. Everyone go easy on his ridiculous comments...

  • Comment number 4.

    I agree with slotsie. It appears to me that Ireland have only two players whose age may harm the team going forward to the next world cup; O'Driscoll and Hayes. We've found another fly-half of quality and the rest of the team hardly disgraced themselves.

  • Comment number 5.

    Not sure about BOD's age being a factor going into the next world cup, for me the concern is his fitness and well being. He didn't really get into the game against SA and he's taken more than his fair share of knocks over the last year.

  • Comment number 6.

    FEWER. Not less.

    Dear god, do journalists not have to have some vague grasp of their own language any more?

  • Comment number 7.

    It is fair to say the northern hemisphere teams are behind yada yada yada. However comments that ireland are an ageing teams that are now on the decline are far from true. There are ageing players in the team no doubt, O Gara (32) BOD (30) O Connell (30) JErry Flannery (30) Donnacha O Callaghan(30) Hayes (35!!) and David Wallace (33).However the only two players that will be past their prime for the world cup are hayes and wallace. That is it. The amount of young players coming through is extremly encouraging eg Sexton, Fitzgerald, Kearny, Earls, Cronin, O Brian. Not to mention the group in their mid twenties eg Heaslip, Ferris, Bowe. Bottom line is Ireland have not been beaten in 2009 and the list of teams they have beaten include France, England, Wales, South Africa and a draw with Auz. In my opinion Ireland are the strongest they have ever been. We will be 4th in the world and will be nippin at Australians heels if we have a good 6 nations. We will go into the world cup strong and im sensing a bit of the green eyed monster from my my English and Welsh counterparts on this forum. Boo Hoo we ARE better than you and have a very good team now, you dont, get over it.

  • Comment number 8.

    @bruxeur is one of the fewer uplifting places to begin your day.

  • Comment number 9.

    We should probably stop arguing about who is the worst northern hemisphere team and figure out why the top 3 southern hemisphere are realistically light years ahead of us in terms of playing proper rugby. The fact is that the top 3 come out and play against other teams and try and win the game by scoring tries. All we can do is rely on penalties which is how ireland won their game the other day. I reckon the key is at the breakdown. How did the aussies manage to obliterate the Welsh team in the first half? Because Pocock and co turned the ball over about a dozen times. The northern hemisphere teams seem to involve too many players at the breakdown just to protect the ball, which reduces their options going forward. The top 3 actually look like scoring tries everytime they had the ball, while the home nations never actually looked they could do it against them. Why is this? Are we slower, weaker? Are their defenses too good? I really don't know, but I hope the northern hemisphere teams sort it out, otherwise I'm never gonna get excited about the autumn internationals again

  • Comment number 10.

    Great Blog as usual Tom.

    If you were to look at the last 20mins of all the games, barring the SA-Ireland game, the gulf in class is very obvious. It's all very well matching a southern hemisphere side for 60mins, I simply don't understand how, when every professional side has three or four specialist conditioning coaches, how our players cannot keep up that intensity for the full 80mins when NZ, SA and Aus can.

    The big difference between them and us is that they pick teams to win games, rather than to avoid losing. A perfect example is England's selection of Erinle for the AB match, selected purely to tackle Nonu. He's never going to win you a game, ever.

    However, as Ireland showed, we are capable of matching them, and it is not by booting us aimlessly down the pitch, it is by attacking them and forcing them to concede penalties or tries. Kearney was so effective because he had the confidence to run back at SA and back himself. How often do you see the ABs running it from their own half, look at Muliaina's try against France, I would have backed England, Scotland and probably Wales to have kicked the possession away to clear the lines, rather than back themselves to take on the opposition.

    England looked most effective when they threw everything at the ABs in the first half, Ireland did exactly the same against Australia. Our teams need to understand that these southern hemisphere teams are not supermen, they will miss tackles and they will creak under pressure.

    Tom, I'd be interested to hear your predictions for the 6 Nations. In the pub I work in the punters seem to think it's a toss up between Ireland and France. Your thoughts?

  • Comment number 11.

    dangerously optimistic dave clearly not living up to his name there...

    Firstly can I just say how proud I was to be Irish yesterday. That match for me was on a par with Wales earlier on the year and it was terrific to watch our boys come through.

    Now just to pick up on a couple of points.

    davepoolfan is spot on about 'Ireland's aging team', we will undoubtedly lose a few players over the coming years but so will everyone else. At the moment I'd say we just about have the strength in depth coming through to cover sufficiently. Not forgetting of course the array of talent coming through the ranks, Ireland A's victory during the summer springs to mind. There is a hell of a lotta quality youth talent in that team.

    dangerously optimistic dave again is spot on with regard to the breakdown and turnover problems. All the home nations seemed to lose an awful lot of ball over the weekend due to turnovers. The SH forwards just seem to be able to reach the rucks a lot quicker than our guys and are able to turn defensive, quickly into attack or clear their lines. From my count Wales had a good . ALright you may have lost 2 of them, but for me Wales gave up on the game far too quickly and let Australia trample all over them. Odarroch above is absolutely spot on when he talks about the SH teams. They are human just like us and will make mistakes i.e miss tackles, give away penalties, knock on, through the odd hospital pass etc etc. Case in point South African line outs on saturday. NH teams have to get over a mental barrier that just because they are playing either New Zealand, Australia or South Africa the game is lost before its begun. They may start as favorites, but the aura of invincibility about them is in our heads!

    England actually put up a decent showing and did well to keep the scorelines down considering their 'injury issues'. As for Scotland, still a bit to go yet I think though it will make for an interesting 6 nations if they can win their opening match.

    6 nations 2010, for me (and maybe I am being dangerously optimistic) it has to be either France or Ireland. Don't think anyone will get the Grand Slam though.

  • Comment number 12.

    Sorry I meant to say from my count Wales had a good 10/11 first team players starting the match.

  • Comment number 13.

    I dont why the gap between north and south is judged on these autumn internationals in the northern hemispheren when the next world cup will be held in the south in Nz. Home advantage should be taken into account on top of what happens on the rugby field.

    Maybe Tom should make an assessment of the success of northern hemisphere teams touring South Africa, NZ and Australia in the past 2 years. Im sure then that state of northern hemisphere rugby would be more dire than the picture that Tom paints in his column.

  • Comment number 14.

    I think James Hook sums it up best - they are more clinical. In the first half of France - NZ, the All Blacks didn't actually see that much of the ball, but every time they got into the French half they scored.
    A similar overall picture emerged in the England - Australia game.
    And then in the second half (of both games), the southern hemisphere team had more of the ball and killed the game.

    That's the way rugby has to be played. You can't "surprise" defences anymore and so have to seize absolutely every opportunity. Where the NH teams are way ahead is simply in their finishing: the stats (for once) show this quite amply.

    As for giving an overall picture of world rugby, I agree the autumn internationals are not a particularly good guide, given the different stages of the season the teams are at. But they are a better barometer than the summer tours, as most NH nations send pathetically understrength teams.

    Until a NH team starts to regularly beat SH teams home and away, we have to take the results at face value, and admit the gulf is still wide.

  • Comment number 15.

    slotsie, fearghal, WillyGilly, davepoolfan - agree with you entirely about the age of the Irish squad re the next World Cup. With the exception of Grizzly Hayes, it's not going to be a problem. Reminds me of England in 2001 - for the pack experience of Johnson/Dallaglio/Hill/Back, see O'Connell, O'Callaghan and D Wallace. Lob in the young sparklers like Kearney, Fitzgerald, Earls and Sexton and you've got a tasty recipe.

    Dangerously Optimistic Dave - when a man with your moniker says he's never going to get excited about the autumn internationals again, truly the IRB have something to worry about.

    0darroch - good point about negative team selections. Re the Six Nations, at the mo my finishing order would be Ireland, France, Wales, England, Scotland, Italy. I think... Yours in full?

    zcdsc - I'll dig out the dusty yearbooks from the Fordyce Statistics Attic, but I've got a pretty good feeling the record's an old-fashioned stinker. France's win in NZ this summer was the only win over Tri-Nations opposition, unless we count the glorious oh-so-close-to-immortality deeds of the Lions in July...

  • Comment number 16.

    To Tough biscuit

    No hysteria but your blunt asessment is not entireley balanced, All teams involved have excuses regarding long seasons whilst the tri-nations was on we in the north had started our domestic leagues and european cup campaigns and it fair to say you dont get in a national side unless you are repsresenting at decent club level.

    There are also all the players who have been involved in the lions tour, but again it was only really England who drew upon there injury crisis to justify in advance how useless they were going to be. True to form they were awful and looked every inch a team missing 40%(more like 80%) of a regular test international starting 15.

    I always see this from a differing perspective, is it not always a joyful thing to see wales a country of a little over 1 million people not only participating but actually seriously challenging at world level. So if we think on it from this perspective than of course a country like Sotuh Africa or Australia with their vastly superior numbers should be churning out stronger more indepth squads. But Wales like Ireland (Minus Leinster & Ulster) benefit from the fact rugby is the peoples sport and carries with it no snobbery

    England and Scotland still suffer their own faith by still having rugby as the elitest sport and therefor a million miles behind football with regards participation and support. Which also explains the serious lack of any depth in their squad - This is definitley not the case in either New Zealand nor Australia and South Africa have begun the long road to mending their ways.

    I agree with you toughbiscuit on your assessment of scotland a defensively solid team who rely on Kicking (that doesnt sound like de villiers tactics at all.) I also think Scotland had a fluke and any chat of 6 nations vistory (Mr Cuisiter) is at best laughable.

    But The North is benefiting from the development of solid inter club competitions like the Heinekin cup etc and the gap in the standard of rugby has diminished so to claim no Northern team will lift a world cup in the next century (not one of the next 23 world cups) is simply the deluded ramblings of a buffoon.

    If it was to occur I will turn ever so slightly in my grave.

  • Comment number 17.

    zcdsc is on to something here!! The gap is highlighted further when we look at Summer tours down under, with injuries and at the end of a long season just like the SH teams face in the Autumn, the NH teams record is truly appalling. You have to go back a lot further than a couple of years to see a NH team series victory in the sotuhern hemisphere. Apart from England in 2003, France in 2009 and a couple of Lions tests, the last 2 decades (maybe 3-4 decades for Scotland) have produced a drought of wins by NH teams. With all the opportunity to thrive on home ground advantage, the NH teams winning on home soil has become the exception rather than the rule.

  • Comment number 18.

    Sorry Tom, but you cannot excuse Argentina for being understrength and then go on to ignore the catalogue of injuries that England have - particularly in the front 5. This fits in with Odorrach's point about committing players to the breakdown. With the first choice front 5, the back row stay out of the brakdown and it gives the game a chance. Currently the likes of Moody and Croft spend too much of their time winning the ball on the ground to act as the link to the backs.

    As for the Six Nations, Ireland look head and shoulders above the rest.

  • Comment number 19.

    If we are all completely honest, the Autumn internationals were of extremely poor quality. The only team that has come out at the end happier than before they started is Ireland. For me they're odds-on for the Grand Slam, and I can't argue with Tom's predicted final table, though the Calcutta Cup match is at Murrayfield, so Scotland may sneak 4th.

    Australia were awful, South Africa were tired, but generally looked like a team that has run out of momentum, and the All Blacks looked terribly vulnerable. On the Northern side, France and Wales are flaky, England the same as last season. Scotland got a memorable win, but they're not going to reach the WC semis, are they?

    The team that wins the World Cup will be far, far better than any of the teams that played this Autumn. For me, even though I'm English, this is a source of great optimism. If 2 or 3 teams are going to seriously raise their game, why shouldn't we be one of them?!

  • Comment number 20.

    Tom - firstly, to suggest that Henson remains one of Wales 'main men' is stretching it somewhat given the time since said enigma even pikced up a ball in anger, let alone got near an international jersey!!! Shanklin may have been a wiser inclusion in that group.

    Secondly - the Lions played a brand of fast, exciting, even try-scoring rugby in SA. Therefore given that the same home nations players are involved, does the blame not lie in the inability of the (attack) coaches for their apparent impotence now they are back with the national teams????

  • Comment number 21.

    Oh, and 0darroch, the tiredness in the last 20 mins is nothing to do with conditioning. A quick look at the tackle count on these games will tell you that these teams have been working extremely hard to keep the scoreboard down for an hour, and this effort leaves them vulnerable in the last quarter of the game.

  • Comment number 22.

    ookaay time for some perspective, truth is northern hemisphere rugby is inferior to the southerners and yes they are within reach but it is that small gap that home nations will never be able to close on in the near future. ireland at their peak yes thats true and what can only come after is the decline at 2011 rugby world cup [its inevitable]. wales arguably could be the biggest glimmer of hope they are most importantly a rugby nation 1, they can do it if they put their back into it 2, and keep a southerner as their coach 3. england need some major revamp but they will always impress at the world cup that i know and scotland well a top ten place is guaranteed but the pinnancle is too far for their reach [not good enough]. dnt let stats and this years series fool you Springboks had a longer season, tired depleted and experimented too much for their good resulting in a poor end to a great run however the next world cup is their's for the taking and all blacks are the only obstacle in their way, playing at home and getting better every time but we all know of the world cup voodoo that haunts them. australia are the southern hemisphere version of france they will pull that shock win which will decide takes it and if we go napping they might jus pick it up themselves. do i really think a home nation will win the next world cup NOPE but miracles do happen and it will be some divine intervention the day northern hem rugby catches up to the torch bearers that is the southerners, in fact instead of thinkind abt the "Big Three" some home nations [all of them]should be concerned with the likes of Samoa who jus need that cash injection to their skill and physical play to go one better....

    im so sorry Italy were not mention in this.....

  • Comment number 23.

    rossmore01 - fair point re Gav and Shanks. Was just thinking what the dream Wales XV might be if all were fit and active. Always feel it's a little harsh that Shanks is generally the one to make way, although he's not been pulling up Taffside trees for the Blues.

    Re the Lions - don't forget the involvement Gatland, Edwards and Howley had in that coaching team. Must be more to the north-south divide than just that, although Geech is clearly a genius.

    DrRichie - did mention England's 40% injury-rate. Certainly a factor. Agree 100% re Ireland.

    PorterRockwell - Dallaglio reckons England will win the Six Nations. Thoughts?

  • Comment number 24.

    Excellent blog, and interesting views.

    It's about hunger. It is about being able to front up for eighty physical minutes, knowing that a moment's respite amounts to surrender, at least in the big games. There are three other obvious things:

    1. The SH "big three" don't have infallible players, but everybody in the team seems determined to make everybody else look good, instead of looking for wizardry. How many times does Carter miss touch from his own twenty-five? I reckon about twice a match. How often do the NZ players recriminate on such occasions? Never. They redouble their efforts instead of dropping their heads, and the bungles often go unnoticed.

    2. The SH "big three" put immense emphasis on recovery windows. Watch Burger. He doesn't crash through defences at will, and he doesn't "seagull" about, but he's never out of play for more than a few moments. Nor is he unique: the "big three" simply don't pick players who are slow to get back into play once they've been taken out.

    3. The SH "big three" are enormously hard-nosed about winning, as opposed to pleasing the crowds, no matter what they say at press conferences. Giteau illustrates the point perfectly. He may be quick and elusive, but he kicks for position whenever that would be the most effective option, and never makes it seem that he'd rather be doing anything else. Or consider how Aus. arrived at their new front row: lots of talk about footballing skills, but it's no coincidence that they eventually arrived at a formidable scrummaging unit.

    No rocket science there, nothing that NH sides haven't done from time to time. It's just not kept up. You'll see players who get off the deck as if they had all afternoon to do it in during the Six Nations, and it won't affect their selection, and you'll see players "grandstanding" and fouling up possession without attracting the crowd's displeasure - indeed, they often attract ecstatic applause. And you'll (all too often) see players dropping their heads and hands when there has been an error or a failure to make yards, just when there should have been an amplification of effort - and, mark my words, those players (and their Ferraris and their agents) will seem to lead charmed lives while the selectors busy themselves pursuing their own vendettas.

    NH teams, coaches, selectors and fans just don't seem to stay hungry for long. Still, the "big three" have occasional lapses too, as Ireland were delighted to discover.

  • Comment number 25.

    Thanks for the response Tom.

    My 6 Nations, after watching NZ vs. France, I think France have a long way to go at the moment, and have to agree with DrRichie that Ireland look head and shoulders above the rest. Wales are inconsistent, as are Scotland, and the latter never look anywhere near scoring a try.

    I think England are the unknown quantity, simply because if the injured players come back their match day 22 will be markedly different from the one that played NZ. As such, we have no idea how they'll perform, will we get the "it's a new team, give them time to come together" speech for three games, or will they pick up where they left off at the end of last Six Nations? I think they will be on a par with Wales overall, so:

    Ireland, France, Engalnd/Wales, England/Wales, Scotland, Italy.

    PorterRockwell, how can tiredness in the last 20mins be "nothing to do with conditioning"? Surely it has everything to do with conditioning, as were they fitter, they would not be as tired. I agree that tackles make teams tire quicker, but it seems then when England particularly is in a tough and even match with a Southern Hemisphere side, after 60mins it is the England players who tire, not the Southern Hemisphere players.

    My answer is that the Super 14 is played at a much higher pace than the Premiership. This is partly to do with the conditions and partly to do with the emphasis on running rugby that exists there, on the will to score tries rather than grind out wins. Admittedly the SA team play a kick and chase game a lot of the time, but the threat of the running counter attack is always there. This higher pace means that players simply have to be fitter to keep up. The Premiership, whilst often displaying some great rugby, still has long periods of rumbling forward play in which players do not use up as much energy.

    Consequently, when we try to take them on at their own game, we tire, and lose, after matching them for 50-60mins.

  • Comment number 26.

    For me its all about player development. SH teams are always bringing through young players. If they show any talent, they are fast tracked to the big stage to see how the cope. Its not surprising that some of the exciting players of NH rugby and world rugby are the young guns coming through.

    Also their domestic leagues are more intense. Look at Currie Cup, Super 14, Air new zealand. Some of the skill on display is inspiring stuff. I mean, how many times do you see a SH domestic team sign a NH player? Fair enough not all have the same kind of spending power but some do but they mostly stick with home grown. On the reverse, bring a player in from SH to NH and they are usually game changers. Example, Fredrick Michelak went to sharks and struggled with the tempo, American flanker Todd Clever went to Golden Lions (i think) and he has improved ridiculously. Luke Mcalister went to sale sharks and lost some of his attacking flair but was still a game changer. Luckily for him he is back in NZ where he will revitalize his development.

  • Comment number 27.

    No one has mentioned something that the SH teams have which the NH don't have; a true 7 (6 in south africa). This forces the attacking NH team to commit more to the ruck or else conceed a turnover leaving the defending SH team with more defenders to attackers.

    Brussow(SA), McCaw(NZ) and Smith(AU) have the potential to stop an attack in its tracks and turn defence into possession in an instant. No other NH team has such weapons in their arsenal. Moody has been outstanding at times but is still a class below the names above.

    Another one to add to the list is young Pocock who dominated the rucks for Australia against Ireland and in 40 minutes in Cardiff was a worthy contender for MotM. Had he been on the pitch against Scotland, Australia would have not lost imo.

  • Comment number 28.

    Tom I find your honesty refreshing. Do the Northerns not get it. Rugby is about scoring tries. The news laws show the law makers want to make the game more open. Ireland did very well sure but never once looked like scoring against the Boks. Had Bakkies played I would suggest Ireland would have been another losing statistic.

    England wouldn't actually score if the big three played with 12 men for 80 minutes and as for the Scots win over Aus. Had they lost by 40 points they could not have complained, the Wallabies played some of the dumbest rugby I have seen for years and showed why they are a distant third in the world.

    Lets get real the next world cup will be won by Australia, New Zealand or South Africa thats a fact. End of year tours for the Tri Nations teams are paid holiday and a chance to have a look at the youngsters that will be around to win the 2015 world cup.

    If the North does not change the way they play and coach they will continue to be World Cup spectators. Finally, Alain Roland apart when are the north going to produce a decent ref who is consistent

  • Comment number 29.

    I must be the only one who isn't really surprised or more importantly, concerned about this years Autumn Internationals. That may have a lot to do with being Irish! We performed the best out of all the home nations, and we have new young players coming in giving great performances (almost unheard off in Irish rugby history), it used to be once your in, your in!

    And I know all the staunch Webb Ellis, English public school believers will say, 'We invented the sport, we should be winning it.' The fact of the matter is, we gave the sport to the Southern Hemisphere, they developed it and we didn't! England have always beleived they could win matches because they invented the game and could play the same 'shove it up your jumper and run' game.

    The truth is, and anyone who has played rugby (school level and up) in NZ, Aus, SA will know that these boys live and breathe the game. So do their families, so do their coaches, so do their governments. Australia, has the best sports development program in the World bar none. In all three of these countries they almost have an American sport college style development, with thousands of players hand picked every year at a young age to play sport.

    Where as in this country you have to be the cream of the crop and combine that with being in the right place at the right time, to even get a chance of noticing. For every one young player of potential England standard here, the southern hemisphere are producing 10-20 of them. We will never improve if we don't invest and change the way sport is developed in this country.

    If we care that much about winning against these teams then why aren't we doing something to acheive it instead of just complaining about it!

    The southern hemisphere countries aren't producing genetically better rugby players, there governments just have their priorities right!

  • Comment number 30.

    DrRitchie, surely you are kidding; are you telling us that the "first choice front 5 for England" (I assume you mean Sheridan, Mears, Vickery and co) would be making the sort of offloads we saw from the Aussie front row leading to the excellent try for lock Horwill against Wales. Do me a favour;the instinct for our England pack is to simply take the ball to ground at the first sign of a defender!

    You are right about one thing though - the England 2nd row is clearly not first choice. Steve Borthwick - a leader of men he is not!

  • Comment number 31.

    ToughBiscuit:

    "Ireland have peaked and when their ageing overrated underachievers (BOD et al) retire will be back to the depths mediocrity and early World Cup exits"

    Fair play, Ireland are shall we say - experienced - but I'm not sure it'd be wise to even consign them to post-retiree mediocrity just yet.

    To illustrate my point - can you name one international side with better youngsters coming through the ranks?

    Bowe, Earls, Sexton, Kearney...

    As Tom pointed out it is only the big man John Hayes who is guaranteed to be off soon, and I for one am quite confident Buckley will step up at some point.

    Another point - Leo Cullen has been kept out of Irelands' first XV for a ridiculous legnth of time. There is far more depth to Irelands pool of players than any of the other NH nations.

  • Comment number 32.

    Fearghal, I have to take issue with you. You say "We've found another fly-half of quality...". What you actually should have said is "We have found a fly-half of quality......" At last Ireland have someone whose instinct is to attack, try something different, and can defend! Finally your wonderful backs can be unleashed, rather than stand watching the ball punted 30 metres to touch for the benefit of O'Connell and co. Lets hope BOD can keep up tho, he looks a little shorter on puff every game he plays.

  • Comment number 33.

    There is a gap, but the gap isn't the huge gulf many are trying to state.
    1: England are at their lowest ebb since the early 80's, but they will improve and will be a force come WC. They almost made it in last WC with an awful team.
    2: Wales are in flux and were disappointing all round in the AIs, but they have enough quality to turn that around
    3: France never change - They can beat anyone put in front of them including all 3 SH teams, but will always lose their heads and probably get tonked by a weak England team.
    4: Scotland - At last after 10 years of steady decline they are starting to improve slightly. Stubborn and pragmatic, but very little flair. They'll win the odd close one, but won't win 2 games in a row for a while yet.
    5: Ireland - Slow start but then steady against AUS - If they hadn't been playing catch up after the interception they would've won comfortably (what's this about NH teams running out of steam? If Ireland had another 10 minutes in this game they would've won). They deservedly beat a tired (and very dirty) SA team, who could've had 3-4 players carded. If they can find a front row from somewhere they'll be a threat.
    To me, there were only 2 good games by SH teams this Autumn - NZ v France and Aus v Sco.
    We know the 3 SH teams will be favourites, but we also know France can pick up their game to beat a NZ side, Ireland have comfortably beaten S.A. 3 in a row, England and Wales will improve while even a dreadful Scotland side can beat a misfiring Aus, so it ain't all cut and dried just yet.

  • Comment number 34.

    Boredofbarnes - top name by the way. That's not what I meant. I was referring to the clearing out of rucks, which we don't do well enough and tie in the back row, slowing down any ball coming back, if we don't turn it over. I have no illusions that any of our forwards can offload the ball into a tackle, but first things first.

  • Comment number 35.

    Im finding all this talk about how Ireland have "peaked" and have an ageing team hilarious. Ireland are playing the best they have every been playing and have the biggest quality squad they every had and the majority of the lions team were Irish. How can this be a team that has peaked? Also how is it an ageing team? Sure BOD and POC are 30...but we have great upcoming players to take their place. What about the english team? joe worsley is 32, Jonny Wilkinson is 30, Simon Shaw is 36, Steve Borthwick is 30 and Lewis Moody 31! yet no one has said England have an ageing team. Thats because the only bitter people right now are the English rugby fans because their team has hit an all time low and Ireland has hit an all time high. If Ireland is an ageing team then id hate to think what the English team is.

    Lets stop beating down our northern hemi teams and just concentrate on getting better. Ireland are undefeated this year and are a real force in world rugby. So stop all the silly talk about aging and peaking because its obviously not true. Roll on 6 Nations 2010!

  • Comment number 36.

    Willy Gilly, James Mathew et al:

    One Grand Slam and suddenly Ireland are World Cup favourites? Huh?

    Lets see them consistently peform back to back, season to season; lets see them win in the Southern Hemisphere; lets see them perform once POC, BOD, O'Gara, Hayes, Wallace, Flannery, O'Callahan either retire or lose form; lets see what happens when their luck with injuries runs out and their depth is really tested; lets see them consistently win with one of the weakest scrums in world rugby.

    How many Irish players would make a World XV? Kearney the only real canditate.

    Comparisons with England make no sense. The England RWC winning team of 2003 beat the Southern Hemisphere teams in 12 consecutive tests, home and away, contained some of the best players of their generation and were supremely well organised.

    Fact is that 4th is the highest that Ireland will ever reach in the World Rankings. Once the real Northern powers, France, England and Wales get their act together, Ireland will revert to where they belong - around 6th. Harsh but true.

  • Comment number 37.

    no one said Ireland were world cup favourites...we are happy with our progress and will continue to get better and better. Ireland hasn't even come close to their peak. after next years 6 nations when Ireland come out on top again you will still be here referencing englands glory days of 2003 and saying how we are an aging team.

    England are probably the 8th best team in the world now...even though they have 60 million people to choose from and that about half their team have neither english parents or were they born in england. if you take wilkensen from the english team then thats it for them. however if you take the players who aren't actually english or have any english ancestery but who england poached then i think that team would rank around the same as Brive. Arimitage brothers, flutey, shaw, ayoola, doran-jones but to name a few... if Ireland had 60mill plus the rest of the world to steal from we wouldnt be in the position England are in. happy to lose by just 13 points to other teams. Considering how bad a state English rugby is in...I dont understand how you can criticize Ireland :) bitterness maybe!! Booyaa!

  • Comment number 38.

    Tough Biscuit at no point during any of my posts do I mention the World Cup at all... The WC is a good 2 years away, so I think I'll give it at least 18 months before making my predictions.

    The 7 names you've mentioned have undoubtedly been terrific servants of Irish rugby over the last few years but they won't be retiring for another 3/4 I'd say at least. However I'm sure the same can be said of any team in the world. Players come and go - it's not just an Irish phenomena. Luck with injuries? We lost Wallace and Ferris inside the 1st half and still managed to come up trumps against the World Champions. Our depth is of no concern to me, maybe you've heard of the Churchill Cup? No? Ireland A comfortably destroying an England Saxons side all done with our strength in depth. One of the weakest scrums in world rugby, this doesn't even warrant a response.

    As for how many players would make the World XV, I think we can safely count POC and BOD as potential inclusions probably ahead of Kearney. Bowe as well could be a possible. How many English players would make it? Gosh I'm struggling to think of any...

    Strangely I actually find myself agreeing with you the England WC winning team deserved that victory hands down but over the last 6 years times have changed. That team is long gone.

    Amazed you can so accurately predict the rankings when you clearly have no concept of the nature of rugby in Ireland. Maybe 4th is the highest we will ever get, but we have a team that is well capable of reaching the World Cup semi-finals. France, England and Wales are the 'Real Northern Powers' are they? Most amusing. France and Wales meh possibly. With Bothwick at the helm England will be going nowhere fast.

    Ireland falling to 6th? Pardon me if I don't hold my breath...

  • Comment number 39.

    I think what the Irish fans are missing is that although capable of one off home wins, they are not good enough to consistently beating SH teams on their own patch. You might be the best of bad bunch, but that is what it is, a bad bunch. Wales seem to going backwards, France are massively inconsistent, Scotland are capable of defending and England currently don't have a clue. The reality is that not even the most ardent supporter would be putting a NH team as favourite for the next world cup.

    A win of a NH team over a SH team is currently a pleasant surprise rather than an expectation. When England where moving towards the World Cup in 2003, they (and their fans) expected to win every game home and away and actually managed consistent success in Australia, NZ and South Africa. Since then, only France have won in the Southern Hemisphere.


  • Comment number 40.

    Surely Ireland's tag as favourites for the 6 Nations is a no brainer...

    1) they've not been beaten all year.
    2) they've maintained a far more consistent line-up, therefore are a much more cohesive unit than any other 6 nations side.
    3) as correctly stated above, in BOD, POC, Kearney, Bowe, they have a smattering of world class match winners.

    France can be brilliant, but are unlikely to turn up for 5 matched in a row, Wales are moving backwards, England standing still and Scotland are moving slowly forwards from a position someway behind the rest.

    As for comparisons, I think Ireland 2009 are still someway behind England 2003 (which finds it stock increasing all the time as the realisation of just how good that side was becomes apparent), but that team took 6 years in the making and seemed to disband overnight.

  • Comment number 41.

    Ireland are currently IMO way ahead of any of the other NH teams. Wales are going backwards at present, Scotland are lucky to half fill a stadium which tells you something about their team, and England are running out of countries to nab players from.

    Congratulations to Ireland for playing well these last couple of weeks. Sexton is a huge boost for you as he looks quality and Kearney is world class, better than Byrne and thats coming from a Welshman.

    If other NH teams showed the same determination and spirit as the Irish lads then there may have been more to cheer about.

    Well done Ireland

  • Comment number 42.

    WillyGilly you absolutely stole the comment i was going submit!!

    ToughBiscuit you are clearly having trouble accepting how good Ireland are at this moment in time.

    "How many Irish players would make a World XV? Kearney the only real canditate." Well i think Brian O'Driscoll, who should have won world player of the year this weekend and was on the end of some overly rough treatment in the six nations game against England would be a certainty to make a World XV alongside Kearney and possibly Heaslip.

    The fact that Borthwick even makes an international squad never mind captaining it is a joke.

  • Comment number 43.

    It's great to see Ireland bringing in these young guys. Sexton, Healy and O'Brien really stepped up to the Mark against SA. Ireland seem to be building a decent young team for the WC. The starting 15 could end up looking like this.

    Kearney - 23
    Bowe - 24
    O'Driscoll - 30
    Earls - 22
    Fitzgerald - 22
    Sexton - 24
    O'Leary - 26
    Healsip - 25
    O'Brien - 22
    Ferris - 24
    O'Connell - 30
    O'Callaghan - 30
    Hayes - 36(Huge problem Area for Ireland no replacement is international quality)
    Flannery - 31(Cronin's 23 and is an Excellent prospect)
    Healy - 22

    That's an Average age of 25 for the Starting Line up.

  • Comment number 44.

    Ireland showed a lot of spirit and showed what a competitive team they are this autumn but I don’t think it is all doom and gloom for the other Northern Hemisphere teams. Clearly most of the NH teams have struggled with the new breakdown interpretation and with their kicking game. Ireland had the most experienced back three and with their background in Gaelic football and were the best equipped to cope with the new dominance of the up and under! Statistically the SH teams all kicked more then their NH opponents - including England despite what the critics said.

    The other SH teams will learn from this and I think it will be a competitive 6N. We are still 2 years away from the world cup, NZ are usually the best team in the world at this stage but Ireland, Australia, France, England and Wales have enough good players to do well.

    It’s a shame that the laws have been so messed about but the Irish, Australians and New Zealand have all shown it is possible to entertain despite the new interpretation at the breakdown which discourages running rugby.

  • Comment number 45.

    First time i've posted anything on here and i agree with most of what is being said. The problem I have though is that it can't be easy for coaches, players etc to change the psyche. Why is it that northern hemisphere teams just don't seem to be able to cope with being favourites. I've thought this for years. Apart from england when they won the world cup it seems to be a pattern. Discuss please.

  • Comment number 46.

    You lot also grossly underestimate how much winning is hammered into SH kids. We are taught to think like winners and believe in your own ability. Until the NH adopt this kind of attitude when it comes to the crunch you will fail.

    This is not arrogance its fact. Martin Johnson had it and demanded it from his team and thats why it worked. Ryan Jones stated publicly after the New Zealand game he was happy with the progress. What does that mean, progress is winning not losing by less.

    You won't see a better illustration of my point than the Second Lions test. For 45 minutes the Lions were absolutely awesome it was probably the best Rugby seen in SA ever but the Boks willed themselves and found a way.

    That is what has and always will win WCs and I am not sure any of the NH teams have this mentality at the moment

    Rossmore by the way POC in the world XV do me a favour. Had he not been Captain of the Lions team the Test pairing would have been Wynn Jones and Shaw

  • Comment number 47.

    36. At 3:29pm on 30 Nov 2009, ToughBiscuit wrote:

    "One Grand Slam and suddenly Ireland are World Cup favourites? Huh?"

    I'd say Contenders, rather than Favourites ToughBiscuit. New Zealand are the Favourites, and South Africa are 2nd.

    Maybe you meant Most Likely of the NH teams? Even there, France might have a quibble, and Wales if they get their act together could be in with a shout.

    "Lets see them consistently peform back to back, season to season;"

    Ireland and France have the best records in 10 years of the 6 Nations, reading played 50, won 36, lost 14.

    "lets see them win in the Southern Hemisphere;"

    This is a fair and relevant criticism, Ireland haven't beaten any of the Tri-Nations at home in 30 years, since their 2-0 series win over Australia in 1979. In contrast to some of the dreadful beatings they used to take, however, their last 2 tours to NZ and AUS have produced a series of tight games, with usually just one or two scores in it.

    Ireland need to win some matches on their next Summer tour if they are to be considered real World Cup contenders.

    "lets see them perform once POC, BOD, O'Gara, Hayes, Wallace, Flannery, O'Callahan either retire or lose form; lets see what happens when their luck with injuries runs out and their depth is really tested;"

    Indeed. Ireland will expect a raft of retirements after the 2011 World Cup, those 7 players are unlikely to make 2015, despite the likes of Simon Shaw and Mike Catt playing late into their 30's.

    However, with Donnachadh Ryan, Ryan Caldwell, Devin Toner and Trevor Hogan Ireland have some excellent prospects at lock.

    Denis Leamy, Jaime Heaslip, Sean O'Brien, Niall Ronan, Stephen Ferris and Chris Henry are all excellent young back-rows, so no problem there.

    Sexton, Keatley and Humphries will be slugging it out for out-half for the next 10 years.

    Earls, Fitzgerald, McFadden, Cave, Matthews, Bowe will all be vying for places in the Centre.

    Ireland's big problem is the front-row, where the best prospects to take over from Jerry Flannery are Sean Cronin and Denis Fogarty, and the search for a worthy successor to John Hayes is ongoing, although Tony Buckley, Darragh Hurley, Tom Court, Mike Ross and Timmy Ryan will all fancy their chances over the next two years.

    "lets see them consistently win with one of the weakest scrums in world rugby."

    Is that not what they have been doing?

    "How many Irish players would make a World XV? Kearney the only real canditate."

    Jerry Flannery. Paul O'Connell. David Wallace. Jaime Heaslip. Stephen Ferris? Luke Fitzgerald. Brian O'Driscoll. Tommy Bowe. Tomas O'Leary?

    There'll always be quibbles over such a team. A better question would be, who in the world would Ireland draft to improve their team? Carl Haymans maybe? Richie McCaw? Dan Carter? Jean De Villiers/Ma'a Nonu?

    In most positions Ireland have genuine competition between a number of class candidates.

    "Comparisons with England make no sense."

    Agreed. Who is making them?

    "The England RWC winning team of 2003 beat the Southern Hemisphere teams in 12 consecutive tests, home and away, contained some of the best players of their generation and were supremely well organised."

    Not to mention winning 17 out of 20 matches in the previous 4 6 Nations and winning the championship 3 times.

    "Fact is that 4th is the highest that Ireland will ever reach in the World Rankings."

    Fact is that Ireland were 3rd in 2003 and 2006. You shouldn't say something is a fact when it isn't, it makes people think you don't know what you're talking about.

    Ireland will need a good 6 Nations to overhaul Australia in 2010, and a successful Summer Tour to maintain and improve their ranking.

    "Once the real Northern powers, France, England and Wales get their act together, Ireland will revert to where they belong - around 6th. Harsh but true."

    Well, given the relative playing populations and the absence of a timescale, it's hard to disagree with you. Ireland are unlikely to maintain their superiority indefinitely, and who can say how things will look in 50 years?

    But for the moment, Ireland and France are the 'Big' Northern powers, England and Wales are the 'Middle' rank and Scotland and Italy are the 'Small' countries out to cause an upset.

  • Comment number 48.

    Over Optimistic Dave is complaining about the shortage of tries. Well they tried to fix that recently with experimental rules. I hear they were finally rejected by Northern Hemisphere Unions concerned the south was trying to morph Union into Rugby League. Such a shame the opportunity was lost as the IRB operates almost as fast as the Vatican.

    * could someone explain why a defending team who places the ball inside their own goal may then drop kick from inside their own 22? Excuse my ignorance, but don´t such rules encourage boring, defensive rugby? How the hell did they earn the free 22 metres field position?

    * One more if i might. How does kicking a field goal justify three points in a fifteen aside team sport? If it does, a try must be worth around nine odd? (and i played rugby for ten years.)

    Is a bias towards try scoring that hard to ask for? The Pommies kicked their way to a world cup, (beating Wales by nine in their pool after scoring 1 try to Wales 3) no one wants a repeat of that surely.

    Oh and to those pessimistic Europeans, don´t lose heart. Look what happened to us and the All Blacks in France?

  • Comment number 49.

    Put the rules back to the world cup 2003 leave them alone and lets play rugby union the crowd can enjoy before the egg heads who keep changing the rules destroy the game for good.

  • Comment number 50.

    The ELVs were nothing more than a titanic disaster that nearly destroyed the game of rugby union for good. If the egg heads in the sh do not like rugby union go away and find another sport.

  • Comment number 51.

    Would you be English by any chance? Not sure what you mean by egg heads, but if you refer to someone who loves gazing up lovingly as a white oval sails up and over the cross bar ad nausem, that wouldn´t be me. I prefer to see a player carry the thing over the try line and plant on the ground. Sorry if i upset you there. But then, i don´t care much for soccer either.

  • Comment number 52.

    Aaarrgghhh, I'm gagging on my toad-in-the-hole. Australia played an execrable match in Scotland, made so many mistakes, and had so many decisions go against them that even one of those plays going the other way would have reversed the outcome. On a decent day, against Scotland at their best, the Wallabies would have cleaned their clocks. Ireland gave them the only good NH challenge. With Carter at his worst, All Black tries being "held up," Welsh high tackles and head kicks ignored, and English players choking on their "match preparation," NZ still never looked in danger. If the ABs had had 50% of the magic they showed in Marseille, the "home countries" would have been buried in their own embarrassment. Take a little pride from the wins over the Boks and grow up.

  • Comment number 53.

    "If the ABs had had 50% of the magic they showed in Marseille, the "home countries" would have been buried in their own embarrassment."

    Meh, has everyone forgotten when England thrashed France in the Six Nations? A big win over France means nothing, if there was a replay between France and New Zealand next week I still couldn't call the result because nobody knows what type of French team will turn up. This win just proves that the French are as flaky as ever. By the way, England looked class against the French as well now look where they are.

  • Comment number 54.

    It is time for League and Union to merge. As John Beattie indicated in this column there are too many players on the field in Union. League has 13 players on the field.

    I suggest removing to 2 wing forwards from the Union game thus reducing it to 13 and changing the rules of both codes to come up with a single rugby code, which can only be good for the sport in its competition with football.

    Union does not at present encourage the scoring of tries, but League does. 3 points for a penalty in Union is too much, in League it is 2 points; I suggest that a combined code goes the way of 2 points. There would need to be a decision as to what happens at the breakdown and the kicking of the ball into touch as well as scrums. Too much time is wasted in Union on scrums.

    The International League and Union federations need to sit down and work out the rules and take the best from both codes to get a fast flowing game. 13 man teams will help guarantee that.

    Can anyone pass this message on to the Rugby League/Union Federations and bring them to their senses?

    Comments welcome

  • Comment number 55.

    Adam - you'll note my wording of 'world class' rather than 'world XV' - POC would have reasonable argument to claim he falls within the former category. A world XV would obviously be subject to conjecture, but the 2 SA locks would probably lay the loudest claim to the 4 & 5 berths. As a further point AWJ hardly looked a world beater in the AIs with his most notable contribution being to ensure that Wales failed to steal a draw against NZ...

    Whilst reducing the number of players may make for more open rugby, it's not likely to happen, and as for merging the two sports - there's more chance of Martin Johnson admitting he's wrong than that!!!

  • Comment number 56.

    Though a merger is unlikely, rugby league is in danger of fading away, (at least in australia). That might sound far fetched given its big success this year and rugby's waning tv and staduim audiences. The fact is that League can compete with the European money in rugby. Some of the biggest names have left league in recent years, some going to play rugby in Japan. Now if league clubs can't hope to compete with the budget of Japanese rugby clubs, god help them if a Euro club went seriously after BIlly Slater or Isreal Falou. This divide will continue to grow. (not to mention the poaching of english league clubs)
    The fact that rugby is currently underwhelming as a spectator sport is only a short term life line for the NRL. Maybe league is in better shape in the UK.

  • Comment number 57.

    19. At 09:48am on 30 Nov 2009, PorterRockwell wrote:
    If we are all completely honest, the Autumn internationals were of extremely poor quality.

    true, highlighted even more by the excellent four nations in rugby league, the best rugby tournament ever, for me. skill of incredible levels.

    i'm backing france for a slam and a world cup.

  • Comment number 58.

    Unions a great participant game not a great spectator sport! There have been too many rule changes to make the game appeal to Australian Rugby League fans. The IRB have said there will be no rule changes before the World Cup so we are stuck with the current rules. However if I was on the IRB I would push for the following changes to make the game more open and tire out the big forwards with proper scrummaging and mauling;

    1. No tackles above waist height - reduce injuries and encourage off loads
    2. The tackler is out of the game once they go off their feet and they can’t get back up and handle the ball without retreating 5m.
    3. Set the off side line 5m back from the ruck and maul and enforce full arm binding to remove fringing players and create more space.
    4. End the hit at the scrum to reduce collapsing scrums
    5. Make Technical scrum offences a free kick
    6. Enforce straight feeds at the scrum.
    7. Maximum 2 tactical substitutions - you must have 3 front row replacements
    8. 7 points for a try - no conversions
    9. Allow the mark to be made anywhere on the pitch.
    10. Penalise players on the wrong side of the ruck and allow vigorous rucking.

  • Comment number 59.

    1. No tackles above waist height - reduce injuries and encourage off loads

    not possible, too much speed

    2. The tackler is out of the game once they go off their feet and they can’t get back up and handle the ball without retreating 5m.

    so they must crawl back? sounds dangerous

    3. Set the off side line 5m back from the ruck and maul and enforce full arm binding to remove fringing players and create more space.

    4. End the hit at the scrum to reduce collapsing scrums

    just cancel scrums, then?

    5. Make Technical scrum offences a free kick

    this means the game would get even worse, with no platform for running off the set-piece

    6. Enforce straight feeds at the scrum.

    dreamland, but i agree 100%

    7. Maximum 2 tactical substitutions - you must have 3 front row replacements

    the game is too fast for this

    8. 7 points for a try - no conversions

    ????????????why????????????

    9. Allow the mark to be made anywhere on the pitch.

    now it is clear, you don't like rugby. this would ruin counter-attacking

    10. Penalise players on the wrong side of the ruck and allow vigorous rucking.

    already are penalised, but the rucking thing will never come back as it isn't consistent with more fans/appealing to a wider audience

  • Comment number 60.

    1. No tackles above waist height - reduce injuries and encourage off loads

    not possible, too much speed - WHAT? tackling below the shoulders is perfectly possible, Rugby League defence coaches have just nmade it less fashionable because high tackles reduce off loads.

    2. The tackler is out of the game once they go off their feet and they can’t get back up and handle the ball without retreating 5m.

    so they must crawl back? sounds dangerous - NO THEY CAN ROLL AWAY OR STAY WHERE THEY ARE WITHOUT INTERFERING WITH THE GAME

    3. Set the off side line 5m back from the ruck and maul and enforce full arm binding to remove fringing players and create more space.

    4. End the hit at the scrum to reduce collapsing scrums

    just cancel scrums, then? NO, ENGAGE AND THEN COMPETE

    5. Make Technical scrum offences a free kick

    this means the game would get even worse, with no platform for running off the set-piece - WHAT? YOU DONT UNDERSTAND MY POINT - MAKE IT A FREE KICK INSTEAD OF A PENALTY. YOU CAN STILL CALL ANOTHER SCRUM FROM A FREE KICK AND RUN OFF SET PIECE.

    6. Enforce straight feeds at the scrum.

    dreamland, but i agree 100%

    7. Maximum 2 tactical substitutions - you must have 3 front row replacements

    the game is too fast for this - WHY IS IT TOO FAST TO RESTRICT TACTICAL SUNSTITUTIONS. KEEPING PLAYERS ON THE PITCH FOR 80 MINUTES WILL EITHER CREATE SPACE AS THE GYM MONKEYS GET TIRED OR ENCOURGAE LEANER LESS BULKY PLAYERS AND MAKE THE GAME FASTER!

    8. 7 points for a try - no conversions

    ????????????why???????????? - ENCOURAGE ATTACKING PLAY AND REDUCE THE INFLUENCE OF GOAL KICKERS

    9. Allow the mark to be made anywhere on the pitch.

    now it is clear, you don't like rugby. this would ruin counter-attacking - ON THE CONTRARY, THIS WOULD STOP AIMLESS KICKING AND ENCOURAGE PLAYERS TO RUN WITH THE BALL RATHER THEN HOIST AN UP AND UNDER. YOU CAN ONLY CALL A MARK IF YOU ARE UNOPPOSED AND CATCH CLEANLY LEAVING PLENTY OF OPTIONS TO RUN THE BALL BACK.

    10. Penalise players on the wrong side of the ruck and allow vigorous rucking.

    already are penalised, but the rucking thing will never come back as it isn't consistent with more fans/appealing to a wider audience YES IT IS, FAST RUCKING MEANS FAST BALL = TRIES

  • Comment number 61.

    Basher:

    agree with 3,6 and 10 mate, but the rest simply arent logical.

    1: tackles have to be below the shoulders anyway...below the waist isn't realistic...could you imagine someone of Chabal's size trying to tackle someone like Hipkiss below the waist? he'd have to be laying down to do it!
    2: I half agree with, instead I'd say they have to release and go round the back, else the coming in at the side offence should be called
    4: The clean-ness of the hit is what generates momentum in scrums, the initial contact is all important. If there was going to be a rule regarding front rows in scrums i'd make one along the lines of; ensure that binding is on the shirt, not the arm, and remains constant. 1 warning, then in the bin. That would stop props from twisting the arms at scrum time.
    5: What good would a free kick be? If you cheat, you're penalised with a penalty. Thats the idea
    7: I didnt know Sven Goran Errikson coached rugby...
    8: What use would a goalkicker be then? The whole point of a try in the beginnings of rugby was that you were allowed a "try at goal"...ie: Kicking through the sticks.
    9: Do you watch Aussie rules at all? the whole point of only marking in your 22 is so that kicking remains opposed where it is likely to construe a huge advantage. If you could mark at halfway, say, then whats to stop the Carters, Wilkinsons, Goodes etc simply sticking the ball in your corner again and again...you have a lineout, loads of pressure, crash the ball away, mark, ball booted back...take 2!

    Regarding the topic of the blog:

    The SH sides show alot of things better than the NH teams do. However: I dont think that any of them are complete teams, and that the gap between the better NH teams, Wales, Ireland, France and the SH teams is not a massive gulf.

    SA: big, bruising pack which allows alot of forward momentum and quick ball, dominates lineouts (usually!) and scrums, which gives a platform to the backs. I dont know about you others, but I wasnt all that impressed with the majority of SA's midfield and backs play through the autumn. Habana, Steyn and Peiterson are great...but if they dont get good ball and support then the errors will clock up.
    NZ: Dynamite back 3, a goal kicking machine, and of course: Richie McCaw. Yet...England had the better of them in the lineout for the vast majority of the game, their scrum didnt decimate ours (despite a 2nd/3rd string front row, who I was very impressed with by the way!) and I seem to remember alot of mistakes made over the weeks.
    Australia: A more "all round team" i think than the other two, just without the outstanding areas and individuals. Matt Giteau will kick all day...but thats the only area that appeared assured through the whole series with Australia, they looked fallible, and the impotency against a dogged Scotland side showed that. Of course, 2nd half vs England and the entire game against Wales showed what they could do, but can they do that consistantly? I dont think so, not on this month's evidence.

  • Comment number 62.

    All 10 above are largely unrealistic. Yea they have there benfits but is the IRB going to change - not in our generation I'm willing to bet. For my the key area that needs changed is the scrum. Referees are constantly blowing the whistle at this point and we hardly ever get a scrum that goes right first time. The scrum is a key part of any rugby match and if the IRB wants fast, dynamic rugby being played something will need to be done.

    Another bug for me is the issue of line out throws. Assistants rarely flag up throws that aren't straight and although referees sometimes spot them its often left up to Eddie Butler to point it out. Again line outs provide pivotal moments during any game of rugby.

  • Comment number 63.

    Afternoon WillyGilly. Good point re. Lineouts...there were some shockers at Welford road a couple of weeks back in the Saints game (for both sides, im not claiming that the Tigers lineout was pure and beautiful!), and I think i remember only one getting called. mental! Its not like its even hard to spot...Ref stands at back of the channel, Linesman at the front, surely one of them will notice?

  • Comment number 64.

    Couple of desperately needed changes,
    - At the scrum, half backs can not move beyond their own front row. On the rare occasion when clean ball emerges from the scrum, the opposition half back is their to jump on his opposite number as he is bending down to grab it. The half back should have a fair shot at spinning it out to the backs. The game is crying out for clean ball.

    - Grounding in your own goal, drop out from you try line. This awards teams who have managed to get the field position and helps them stay there. ie. increases likelihood of tries.

    - No long arm penalities for petty infringements. Kicking for touch then a line out through is already a massive disincentive for dirty play. Currently i'm sure some teams foul if they sense a try looming, because they figure it is better to give away three than a possible seven.

    - A field goals are a joke. Absolutely no reason they should be worth three.

    That's it. I could even put up with the random nature of scrum penalities then. Comments???

  • Comment number 65.

    I think the overall balanced view would be that Ireland and France are streets ahead of everyone else and will be 1st and 2nd in 6N's. However, looking forward to the World Cup this could change.
    Starting with England we can see that they have the players to compete and once they get a style which suits them will always be a danger but there are very few world class players in their squad at moment. I don't see them winning more than 2 games at 6N's.
    Wales I have always felt were over rated and the recent Autumn internationals have shown this. They could easily have been beaten by Samoa, struggled with Argentina who eventually gave them the game and as we know were totally humiliated by the Aussies who could have put 50 points on them. When they lose Shane Williams or if he is off form they lose their major attacking force. He has won numerous games for them on his own. Their front row (Jenkins aside) is weak and their defence has leaked tries all autumn. They have peaked too soon and I don't see them getting better before WC11.
    Scotland as opposed to Wales are slowly building up to WC11 and as all good managers do AR has build 1st from defence. They looked impenetrable in all 3 games and only lost 2 tries of which both were in last 5 mins of game. Attacking wise they're still not as good as required to make an impression in the 6N's but with the Evans bros, Lamont bros and the young and impressive centres of Groves/Cairns not to mention more world class 9's than you can shake a stick at they have the potential. With their best team out they will match anyone but the main problem is at 10.

    Ireland looked impressive at moments against Australia and SA. They have that extra gear that the rest don't have and with BOD in the team anything is possible. Still think POC is not as good as many have you believ but they certainly have team spirit and understand each others game well too.

  • Comment number 66.

    There isa gap in class between the north and sout yes, but it is not huge and has got more to do with belief and fitness than skill.

    It has long been proven that when southern hemisphere players play to our schedule in the north they are often no better than what we already have, the lack of dominance in the ML/GP/T14 from top class SH players who have moved here is proof of this, were they that much better then they would have starred and more often than not they have been good but not superb.

    Facts are that almost every international we play between north and south is scheduled to suit the southerners. Our season in the North is scheduled to run from September to April, with the 6 nations taking pride of place in February, everything is designed around getting players to full fitness and speed by that point.

    By contrast, The SH championships all run during the spring/summer.

    By the time the AI's come around most NH players are only just getting to fitness with their clubs/regions, indeed most who tour in the summer are only just making their seasonal debuts.

    we also use the AI's to try new players out far mroe readily than the 6N which is our focal point, for the SH teams it's the other way around.

  • Comment number 67.

    I haven't read the entire blog but does anybody believe McCaw deserves the IRB player of the year award over BOD? BOD had his best year in a while and I don't see how he didn't get it. Seemed to be a bit strange to me. And Ireland are contenders but not favorites for the world cup, we need more quality cover for certain positions on the pitch before being considered as favorites.

  • Comment number 68.

    WHAT? YOU DONT UNDERSTAND MY POINT - MAKE IT A FREE KICK INSTEAD OF A PENALTY. YOU CAN STILL CALL ANOTHER SCRUM FROM A FREE KICK AND RUN OFF SET PIECE.

    but there would be no penalty for dropping the scrum.

    67. At 09:38am on 02 Dec 2009, paraic wrote:
    I haven't read the entire blog but does anybody believe McCaw deserves the IRB player of the year award over BOD?

    no, it was a travesty of Obamic proportions.

    and whoever said about many Irish players in a world 15. HAHAHAHA. what? maybe 2, for me. B'OD, and P'OC.

  • Comment number 69.

    I'm not sure that the debate over who has played better amongst England/France/Wales and Ireland holds alot of weight at the moment.

    Clear problem is that none of them (bar France to an extent) have approached the changes to laws in the correct manner. Yes there's no denying that Rugby has suffered as a spectical due to the changes, but having watched the dominance of the SH over NH this autumn, I am more convinced that it relates to tactical decisions and more to the point, the quality and forward thinking of coaches.

    To be honest, I'm not sure any of the excuses for Kicking - for Kickings sake - add up. For a start, putting a team under pressure from first phase with a kick from hand is not a great tactic - never will be eg; England kicking off the top ball from a lineout around halfway HAS NO SOUND THINKING AT ALL. Equally, Shaun Edwards' comment on the kicking stats for Wales Australia game for me has no relevance (Australia doubled Wales Kicking stats). Just because Australia statistically kick more ball, they clearly made stronger decisions and played better ball-in-hand. So perhaps the message to the NH should be dont kick if you cant kick well - Lee Byrne I feel is the only NH back 3 player who knows how to put teams under pressure with a kick.

    If we can take anything from the Wales game, it is that 'heads-up' running rugby clearly has a place. We know Wales dont lack in running talent, so I am more convinced that the tactical approach supported by the coaches does not work. For me the breakdown is still the issue. When I say breakdown, I dont mean the laws that govern it, I mean a players approach to it in attack.

    Running straight predictable lines at congested defences close to rucks is not going to bring about quick ball - putting players into space with support will - not rocket science, but Watch the games again and tell me that the NH approach was any different? This (players in space)was excellently displayed by Australia who seemed to take the approach of isolating the defender with attackers and offloads rather than attempting to 'dominate' predictable rucks with numbers.

    If we are to see an entertaining 6nations, every team has to improve their attack philosophy. If they continue as-is, I could honestly see any of the main 4 (sorry to exclude scotland, but they probably have the smallest talent base for an attractive running game bar Italy) wining. Because tossing ball in the air is just that - what ever way you look at it, you are giving possesion away - endof. NO possession = no tries. Current tactics would allow the referee too much say in the outcome of the game and not the players; referee awards penalty, opposition kick for goal, team who convert most penalties win because neither want the ball in hand!

    If you are trying to avoid slow breakdowns, space is the answer, kicking is not (I totally agree that pingpong should be banned...... somehow) - creating a ruck in space is. Isolate defenders with support (this means committing to an attack, which has been rare amongst NH teams), the rucks will always produce quick ball and vary the point of attack - in my humble opinion this is where Australia showed in the last game how the theory works. Okay, so Wales were poor and Aus are by no means the best, but I think their current approach is correct.

    Coaches - it's over to you.

  • Comment number 70.

    Rubbish Hackerjack. Your claim that SH teams only dominate because of the timetableing of games to suit the south just isn't true. The history of world cup winners demonstrates that, especially when you remember that South Africa didn't even compete in the first few. Another thing that hurts the NH teams is that they often only bring second rate teams on their southern hemisphere tours.

    - Also, note how rarely a NH team chooses to kick for touch instead of going for the easy three. NZ scored several tries from the first option. ANd even though this brought victory to the Irish over the BOks, it is still galling to watch a team kick for three, when they could so easily kick for touch and have a line out throw within spitting distance of the line out. (Obviously the Wallabies are guilty of this one too.)

  • Comment number 71.

    Excellent topbiscuit has taken his absurd views elsewhere, however in my absence we have slightly drifted off topic.

    Re comment 67 I entirely agree with you, New Zealand were decidly off form during the tri-nations - I expected them to walk it. BOD had a huge season both for Leinster and Ireland. Strangly I even find myself agreeing with Guscott in putting Du Preez ahead of McCaw as well. I don't think I'd say that to Richie's face though...

    Kyle... where did croftilicious go? for me it's the assistants in particular, they stand behind the hooker and have the perfect view, are they afraid if they call it the player will turn round and give them a dig?

    Hackerjack I'm afraid I agree with ozjohnmadrid at the end of the day it's 1 team versus another the scheduling shouldn't affect it in anyway...

    ozjohnmadrid I particualrly agree with your second point. I was amazed how confidant Sexton was with his own kicking ability on Saturday. For any of his penalties he could have gone to touch and tried for the try. There wasn't any issue with our line out, the exact opposite in fact, so what was the problem? A try or 2 would certainly have eased my nerves in that last few hectic minutes.

  • Comment number 72.

    I must say that I was dismayed by the discussion of proposed rule changes as a solution to the problem highlighted by this blog. Different rules won't make the NH sides a jot better.

    In fact, I submit that they often have the opposite effect. Gareth Edwards became a great scrum-half when line-outs were declared to be a mess, scrummages could be wheeled and buckled at will (and many hookers became adept at "nodding" the ball back without raising their feet at all) and, frankly, if he'd played under modern rules he'd battle to be noticed above the sheltered mediocrities who are made to look good to attract spectators who understand little of the game but want to be excited.

    I don't believe that the problem which concerns this blog relates to rules at all.

  • Comment number 73.

    Yes the north are still catching up on the south, there's not too many who would disagree with that. but please, "none of the southern teams" complained?"

    The South Africans were bringing up the "end of season" talk in nearly every interview. Funny how nobody mentions the fact that it's the end of our season when we go touring in in the southern hemisphere. No this fact is conveniently overlooked.

    Why don't we just analyse the matches on the basis of their own value? On this basis it would seem that the northern hemisphere has closed the gap slightly. Whether this will prove to be the case in 2011 when it matters is a different matter as for the most part the northern hemisphere has failed in this regard on previous outings....so....here's hoping!!!

  • Comment number 74.

    Realist - Is you statement regarding Ireland being overrated underachievers not a contradiction in terms? Surely overrated players are not expected to achieve? If you dont rate them, then surely their acheivements amke them over achievers. Or is it that you secretly rate them and believe they should have achieved more, hence you label them underachievers? Either way i think you need to make your mind up.

 

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