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 257.

    I don't like rugby.

  • rate this

    Comment number 256.


    If the NH loyalty exists and Yemen were in the final. We should support them against the All blacks. Can't see it myself.

    Come on you Welsh

  • rate this

    Comment number 255.

    When France beat New Zealand at Twickenham in the 1999 World Cup the vast majority of English spectators were cheering France - indeed were French for the day. It WAS a question of hemispheres; the wait for such a victory had been so long. Maybe we are not so mean spirited as some of our nearer neighbours.

  • rate this

    Comment number 254.

    I support the Northern Hemisphere sides. Apart from England. Never England.

    Although, saying that, if Wales don't win then I would like the All Blacks to win. I think it's about time the best team actually won the trophy, especially considering it is on their home soil.

  • rate this

    Comment number 253.

    It's the same with Andy Murray in tennis, and Rory McKilroy in golf. If they win their are British, and if they lose they are Scottish, or Northern Irish respectively.

  • rate this

    Comment number 252.

    Steve 1955

    Wake up mate.Last time I checked the best sports,sporting moments and sports personalities are all about rivalries.

    If we all politely applauded everyones valiant efforts without bias then every sporting event would lose it's appeal.

    War is not about rivalries,it's about dehumanising.Sporting rivalries allow participants to endeavor to reach for the pinnacle of their chosen game.

  • rate this

    Comment number 251.

    Any true sports fan would support any team its a sport and taking part should be a priveledge for players and supporting because its sport should be automatic rather pathetic not to applaud the participants and the winners and losers its not a war

  • rate this

    Comment number 250.

    I'll be supporting Wales because they're a British team, if they are sadly knocked out I'll support the winner of the other semi, the Aussies and New Zealanders are our Kith and Kin down under. But I'll be singing in the valley for the Welsh if they win the cup.

  • rate this

    Comment number 249.

    If I were to take my cue from how our Welsh compatriots in the United Kingdom approach these matters I'd say I wanted anyone but Wales to reach, and then win, the Final. However, I'm not so mean-minded, and will logically be looking to support the nearest neighbour country to where I live in South East England. So it'll be Les Bleus pour moi.

  • rate this

    Comment number 248.

    I agree with Daniel Jones (216). First Welsh, then British, then a member of the British diaspora.

  • rate this

    Comment number 247.

    While the British side of me wants the Dragons to make it to the final. I hope the All Blacks to win over all, solely because I think their fans would enjoy it more (Factoring time zone and home ground). Happier fans are good for the sport.
    Have Wales win it in 2015, hopefully in the Millennium Stadium.

  • rate this

    Comment number 246.

    My support of Northern Hemisphere Rugby Union nations is confined to Scotland, England, Ireland & Wales - the original Home Nations - against anyone else. Furthermore, I support any Rugby country originating from the former British Empire & Commonwealth against France. However, I support France when they play Argentina, Italy, Georgia, Russia, Romania and their like!

  • rate this

    Comment number 245.

    Trawling back through the history books, I can lay claim to bloodlines that include Scotland, France, Italy, England and Ireland, and I'm now married to an Australian so I honestly have no idea who to support, I'd like someone new to win it, but I still haven't forgiven the Welsh for Wembley 1999, so Vive La France it is then.

  • rate this

    Comment number 244.

    I suppose this is the ultimate North/South divide.

  • rate this

    Comment number 243.

    Anyone but the fattest nation on the planet please.

    Hope the Kiwis absolutely batter the whinging ,self centred wobblies.

    'He bowls to the left........'

  • rate this

    Comment number 242.

    Ive been supporting Enland throughout the tornament. However after the shambles the English team have perofmed on and off the pitch I have no qualms in supporting Wales for the rest of it,

    I really dont understand why you would support any other nation just because of previous history. Its only a game of Rugby and the Welsh haven't had much luck in previous World Cups.

    Wales - Australis Final.

  • rate this

    Comment number 241.

    I'm Welsh and I will not support England in rugby not because I hate the nation (I support England in cricket, football, rugby league etc. if wales is not playing) but due of history. English Rugby is about the privileged over the working class. Welsh rugby is a working class sport, English rugby is posh sport. I love Wales. I like England. I hate English Rugby.

    P.S. 10-man Rugby is dead, England

  • rate this

    Comment number 240.

    And I'll be suporting the Welsh at the weekend - English, then british, then underdog.. so if the French win i'll have to support them...Gulp!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 239.

    As English with no better claim to Wales than having been on holiday I have supported Wales since 1968.Why? Well they can sing & before the winderness they played elegant running rugby, a delight to watch. Now they are back.They have a good (southern hemisphere coincidence?)coach & importantly a belief in themselves. They might not win but it will hopefully be a pleasure to watch the Dragon roar

  • rate this

    Comment number 238.

    I identify more with S.A., N.Z., or Australia than with France. But of what's left I say come on Wales.


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