Rugby World Cup: Do fans support their own hemisphere?

Globe with hands

With northern hemisphere teams competing in one semi-final at the Rugby World Cup this weekend and southern teams playing in the other, a north-south showdown is guaranteed for the final. So will fans back the team from their own hemisphere?

Ever since the Irish shocked Australia in the group stage of the Rugby World Cup, the game's global showcase has come to be framed as a tournament of two halves - the northern hemisphere against the southern.

Had the seeding system worked as planned, both semi-finals would have featured at least one side from south of the equator. But when Ireland unexpectedly topped their group, it set up a north-south divide that started in the quarter-finals and will go all the way to the final.

At Eden Park in Auckland a week on Sunday, the best of the Tri Nations teams will take on the best of the Six Nations teams. New Zealand or Australia will play France or Wales. Neat and simple.

North v South

  • Quarter-finals: Wales beat Ireland; France beat England; Australia beat South Africa; New Zealand beat Argentina
  • Semi-finals: Wales play France on Saturday; Australia play New Zealand on Sunday
  • Final: Either Wales or France (northern hemisphere) play Australia or New Zealand (southern hemisphere) on Sunday 23 October

With one side of the globe pitted against the other, it raises the intriguing question of whether there is any such thing as hemisphere loyalty.

Will fans below the equator be hoping that either Australia or New Zealand will continue a winning run that has seen southern teams claim five out of six world cups? Will northerners be yearning for France or Wales to emulate England's solitary success in 2003?

Far from unleashing any kind of hemispheric loyalties, the tournament so far has simply amplified existing, neighbourly rivalries.

Rugby glossary

Leigh Halfpenny of Wales
  • Tri Nations - annual rugby union competition between Australia, New Zealand and South Africa
  • Six Nations Championship - contested by Italy, England, France, Ireland, Scotland and Wales
  • The All Blacks - New Zealand's national team
  • The Wallabies - Australia's national team
  • The Dragons - Welsh national team
  • Les Bleus - French national team
  • Calcutta Cup - trophy awarded to winner of Six Nations match between England and Scotland

The quarter-finals pitted England against their traditional cross-Channel foes France. The group stages saw a resumption of the old Calcutta Cup rivalry between England and the Scots, a South Pacific stand-off between Fiji and Samoa and even a Cold War heritage fixture between USA and Russia.

There has certainly not been much southern solidarity on display yet in Australia or New Zealand. Watching the semi-final between Argentina and the All Blacks at a pub in Sydney, one Wallabies fan was hoarse by the end of game, after shouting "Choke!" at the television every two or three minutes - a reference to New Zealand's repeated World Cup heebie-jeebies.

The Daily Telegraph, a Sydney tabloid, meanwhile, has been running a daily column entitled The Kiwi Chokedown.

Neither has New Zealand offered much of a welcome to the Wallabies - far from it. Partly because their star player, fly-half Quade Cooper, was born in Tokoroa in the North Island and only crossed "the ditch" to live in Queensland 10 years ago.


Setting the scene on Monday for a week of trans-Tasman banter, Australian sportswriter Anthony Sharwood warned: "Prepare for a week of verbal warfare. Here on the civilised side of the ditch, expect perfectly hilarious sheep jokes.

Quade Cooper clashes with Richie McCaw Quade Cooper (left) clashed with Richie McCaw in the Tri Nations

"Over in the land of the long white ugg boot, expect endless tedious quips about Quade Cooper, Quade Cooper and Quade Cooper. With a few Quade Cooper jokes thrown in for good measure."

While a north-south battle became the inevitable climax of this World Cup at an unusually early stage this year, in fact five out of the six finals since the competition began in 1987 have ended up as a battle of the hemispheres.

Start Quote

The divide at the moment is between positive and negative - or between enterprising and timid”

End Quote John Eales Australian ex-captain

In those games, the presence on three occasions of England stood as a bar to the emergence of a united northern front. Many Welsh, Scottish and Irish fans staunchly adopted an "anyone-but-England" stance.

For their part, fans on both sides of the Tasman Sea can recall supporting their rivals in finals past, but say that in recent times the Wallabies/All Blacks rivalry has intensified - probably due to Quade Cooper. He made himself even more unpopular in the land of his birth by kneeing the All Blacks hero, Richie McCaw, in the head during this year's Tri Nations.

But despite all the talk this year about a north-south divide, there are senior figures within the game who do not believe the tournament should be framed as a battle of the hemispheres.

'Good guys'

Among them is John Eales, the World Cup-winning captain of the Wallabies.

"The divide in rugby is not, as the trite would have you believe, between northern and southern hemispheres," he wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald.

"It may have been at other times in the history of the sport but not currently.

Semi-finalists compared

  • Australia have twice beaten the All Blacks at the semi-finals - in 1991 (Dublin) and 2003 (Sydney)
  • The All Blacks have never beaten the Wallabies at the World Cup
  • The Wallabies have not beaten the All Blacks at Eden Park since 1986
  • The All Blacks have won 11 of the past 13 encounters
  • Since first meeting in 1908, Wales have won 43 games to France's 42... Wales have scored 1,297 points, just two more than the French

"The divide at the moment is between positive and negative - or between enterprising and timid - and unlike at the World Cup in 2007, in 2011 the good guys are now winning."

Eales has a point. Tellingly, the tournament's four flair sides have made it through, while sides like England and Ireland, which are instinctively more cautious, defensive and conservative have ended up in the departure lounge.

Those who have stayed true to William Webb Ellis's founding heresy by basing their play on running games with the ball kept in hand have rightfully prospered. For the most part, attack has triumphed over suffocating defence.

Here, it is by no means coincidental that three out of the four coaches to reach the semi-finals hail from New Zealand, where the game is played in its purest form. Graham Henry of the All Blacks, Robbie Deans of the Wallabies and Warren Gatland of Wales.

So perhaps this is less about a north-south divide and more about teams setting out to play ambitious and altitudinous rugby - the game in its highest form.

Let us hope we are in for a weekend of mountain-top rugby.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 237.

    Matt stone (228) agree about the Rugby (we were pants, and boring pants as well), the footie (over hyped one dimensional teams ever since the 1990 glory days) but you can't say that about the cricket.. young team, vibrant players, always looking to win and the No 1 team in teh is the one thing we are good at (apart from misplaced optimism of course!)

  • rate this

    Comment number 236.

    Then Ireland (my grandparents are Irish)
    Then the under dog
    Then New Zealand/South Africa (good rugby)
    Then Scotland
    Then Australia
    Then the referees.......
    Then Wales

    New Zealand to avenge their defeat 4 years ago by squashing the French in the final!

  • rate this

    Comment number 235.

    It's great reading most of your comments!!!
    Being Welsh they'd be first.
    Then Ireland as my husband Irish.
    Then England as I live in England.
    Then scotland, France and Italy....Come on you Welsh!!!! :-)

  • rate this

    Comment number 234.

    I started the tournament English - I hope to end it British but if I have to become European, I shall be happy to do so.

    Other people in my family will accept being British but would have you believe that they were actually at the Battle of Trafalgar and could never, ever support the French.

  • rate this

    Comment number 233.

    I reckon this is a response to the different styles of rugby played by each hemisphere. It's the 6nations vs. tri-nations split of forwards vs backs..we know and recognise the styles of our northern compatriots from constant competition, rugby 'down under' is unfamiliar and sparks a rivalry between the way 'we' play and the way 'they' do. Come on Wales (I still, after all, have a preference!)!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 232.

    As an Englishman raised in wales i grew up with the "Any one but england" mentality and all most started believeing the rivalry existed. It does, but only in wales!
    Iv met very few englishmen that wouldnt support wales against anyone but England. I will be supporting wales and if France are lucky enough to beat them il just enjoy watching the final without caring who wins.

  • rate this

    Comment number 231.

    Anyone but England - but have some difficulty when England play Australia because they seem nearly as arrogant

  • rate this

    Comment number 230.

    Australia, then our pacific island neighbours, then Wales/France, then Scotland/Argentina, then South Africa, then everyone else, then England/New Zealand.

  • rate this

    Comment number 229.

    I love NZ and turned into a huge rugby fan while living there. At the last world cup I watched the NZ v France game planning to cheer for the all blacks but found myself rooting for France (albeit quietly; I was in an antipodean pub). I don't know if it was hemispherism that made me support our historical enemy or the fact that they were the underdog in that pub but I really surprised myself.

  • rate this

    Comment number 228.

    Keep watching Rugby all you English, don't dispair. By stop watching you'll never get to learn how to play proper Rugby to pass on to your descendents. And you will be none the wiser. You can't play Tennis, you're useless at Football, and even worse at Cricket.

    Maybe Ping Pong is ideal for you or even Croquette and Crown Bowling.. . .I dunno !!

  • rate this

    Comment number 227.

    New Zealand will lose, as they always do against the greatest team on Earth - Australia. Hopefully Wales will beat France. If it wasn't for my wife being Welsh I'd support both teams as I have a soft spot for both. Plus they're not English so even better! But the final will be Aus v Wales and we all know who will win that one. Not England! Did I mention I hate any English sporting team?

  • rate this

    Comment number 226.

    NH unity is stronger as the SH usually win so in supporting a fellow NH team you are usually supporting the underdog. However I would always support NH in rugby. As a Welshman I supported England in the 2003 WCF despite their lack of style and grace, Jason Robinson apart. I did support France last w/e. Its always nice to see the ABs beaten by anyone. They are so good. Wales v Aust in the final!.

  • rate this

    Comment number 225.

    Wales first, the rest nowhere!

  • rate this

    Comment number 224.

    I support Wales and in 1999 I tried supporting France against Australia but just couldn't do it - I was singing Land Down Under within 20mins.

    I discovered that I am most likely to support a team which has the same Monarch as the UK - it surprised me but has proven to be true since - hence delight for Canada when they saw off Tonga! Has anyone else experienced this?

  • Comment number 223.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 222.

    @213 - My late Uncle taught me this way

    Gaelic football is a game for thugs played by thugs
    Soccer is a game for thugs played by gentlemen (well that's changed!)
    Rugby is a game for gentlemen played by gentlemen.

    Let's try and maintain that image. Let us continue to respect the game and the players - from whatever country. As long as they play with dignity and respect for the rules of the game

  • rate this

    Comment number 221.

    I did a quick unscientific survey in my office of the native born English. For a France - NZ final, every single one said they would support the All Blacks. For Wales - NZ the room was fairly well split down the middle. I didn't bother asking about the situation with Australia as I can guess the answer...

  • rate this

    Comment number 220.

    Well as a scotsman I'll be rooting for Wales, because they are British! And i think they are playing great rugby but ultimately as long as the remaning fixtures are great games to watch that will do me!

  • rate this

    Comment number 219.


    Yeah youre probably right! ;-)

  • rate this

    Comment number 218.

    Be it France or Wales in the final, il support either. Yes Wales have knocked Ireland out and France have a superior (and frustrating) record against Ireland in my lifetime but with a northern hemisphere team winning the final will only give Ireland an opportunity to play against world champions; a greater, superior team. An insentive for Ireland to preform; rediscover the form of 2003 - 2009.


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