Even if England and Wales beat Australia and New Zealand respectively this Saturday in the final internationals of the year, it will do little to erase the notion that the Southern Hemisphere is dominant over the Northern Hemisphere. Why should it? Teams from the Southern Hemisphere have by and large put on a clinic over teams from the Northern Hemisphere with only France making a decent showing of themselves.
In the three weeks of action, if you include the Pacific Islands in the Southern Hemisphere when they play a test match against a Tier I nation (that means that Ireland’s win over Fiji doesn’t count since they didn’t want it to be a test), then the Northern Hemisphere has won only six times when compared to the Southern Hemisphere’s 11 wins. If you take out France’s victories then the Northern Hemisphere’s wins shrink to only two, England’s blowout of Fiji and Ireland’s victory over Argentina.
Things have been especially tough for the Home Nations who are a combined 2-9 overall and winless against South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand. The only two wins for the Home Nations were Ireland’s victory over Argentina, who themselves went 1-3 on their tour, and Fiji. Neither Wales nor Scotland won a match.
Still, the biggest markers of the Southern Hemisphere’s dominance over the Northern Hemisphere must come from Tonga and Samoa’s wins over Scotland and Wales respectively. Together Tonga and Samoa played four matches against the Northern Hemisphere winning two and losing two. The average margin of victory was six and a half while the margin of loss was six. These wins should come as that great of a shock, after all Tonga defeated France last year in the World Cup and Samoa defeated Australia. These countries should be given more of an opportunity to test themselves against Tier I nations, especially teams like Scotland or Italy. If they can consistently pick up wins maybe the IRB will rethink how they distribute funds around the globe.
The person who should be worried most about this disparity is Warren Gatland, not only for the upcoming British & Irish Lions tour but also for his Welsh charges. Remember, it was less than a year ago that Wales seemed on top of the world. They were young, two points away from a World Cup final, and won the Grand Slam. Now they have suffered a six match losing streak and look to be out of sorts. Further, that young Welsh team is supposed to be the backbone of the upcoming Lions tour. If that is the case, it could be a long month for the team and for Gatland.
Wales biggest problem is their inability to have a strong domestic game. The four provincial teams do well but they lack the resources to keep their best players or to build from within. Wales is a nation of only three million people. New Zealand is the most similar country with four million, but the biggest difference is that in New Zealand rugby in the number one sport while in Wales rugby must compete with soccer for attention. To offer further perspective, Swansea A.F.C. and the Ospreys bot play in Liberty Stadium, yet Swansea averages roughly 20,000 fans per match while the Ospreys managed less than half that amount. Simply there isn’t enough revenue in the Welsh system.
But for all of Wales’s struggles, at least they aren’t Scotland. The Scots have plummeted to 12th in the ranking and don’t seem to be on the way up anytime soon. They finished the year 3-8 with the wins coming over Australia, Samoa, and Fiji last summer. The win against Australia was a definite positive but it was also marred by bad conditions and a less that top choice XV lineup for the Wallabies. Scotland also had the widest margin of loss among the Northern Hemisphere teams with an average of 28 points a game. Their only close result was against Tonga in a 15-21 loss. One has to wonder how much longer Scotland can continue to struggle before the powerhouse teams stop scheduling matches against them and instead choose to focus elsewhere?
The biggest question coming from this year’s matches between the two hemisphere is whether the Northern Hemisphere is doing something wrong, or whether the Southern Hemisphere is doing right? The Southern Hemisphere does well in gathering its top players in Super Rugby. For 16 matches the best players from the three best countries in the world go head to head. You aren’t going to get a better training ground for the that. The only thing that Europe can offer is the Heineken Cup, but even then there are 9 more teams than in Super Rugby and they play less matches.
Maybe the solution for the Northern Hemisphere is to combine the RaboDirect Pro12 with the Aviva Premiership where only the strongest of the teams play each other. The rest would form a second division. This would force the best players from each country onto 16 or so team and giving them higher quality of matches. Through in a competition with the Top 14 and it may come close to matching the experience that Super Rugby provides.
The underlying point is that the Northern Hemisphere has some serious problems on their hands and unless they can come up with a solution, they will be doomed to a distinct second class status for the conceivable future.
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