Sad state of rugby in EuropeComment on this story
With the exception of France, northern hemisphere rugby is a bad joke.
In the November internationals, Wales, England, Ireland and Scotland have a collective 2-6 record in Test matches against their southern hemisphere rivals.
Both of the northern sides’ victories came against Fiji, currently ranked 14th in the world. Without these two blemishes, the southern hemisphere teams, combined, have scored almost twice as many points as their European counterparts.
Wales went down against Argentina and Samoa, and they’ll have to pull the proverbial rabbit out of the hat to avoid successive losses against New Zealand and Australia in the coming weeks – the Wallabies are chasing a fourth win against the reigning Six Nations champions this year.
The Boks beat Ireland and Scotland, the All Blacks thrashed the Scots, and Australia pushed past purple England.
France stand alone as the only side capable of striking fear into the hearts of the southern giants, after having beaten Australia and Argentina.
The shambolic state of rugby north of the equator was underlined at last year’s World Cup where, in clashes between teams from opposite hemispheres, the southern nations won 12 of 18 matches.
This disparity is further highlighted by the fact that the Sanzar sides continue to enjoy such success away from home, at the end of what has been the most arduous Super Rugby season, and without the services of numerous front-line players.
A protracted Super Rugby schedule, governed by a heavy-duty conference format, in conjunction with an expanded Rugby Championship, has taken a significant toll.
Coach Heyneke Meyer started his inaugural season with the unenviable task of finding replacements for a host of old bulls who have moved on to the lucrative grazing fields of European and Japanese clubs. But these plans may still be in unopened envelopes on Meyer’s desk after a wave of injuries turned a reconstruction project into a frenzied salvage operation.
Meyer will find an empathetic shoulder to cry on in Wallabies coach Robbie Deans. Like his Bok counterpart, Deans has come under fire for Australia’s lack of consistency and panache, and neither of the embattled coaches have been given much latitude in lieu of extensive injury lists.
The All Blacks haven’t had to deal with quite the same casualty list, but coach Steve Hansen has taken the view that the tour of Europe is a perfect opportunity to test rookies – in itself an indicator of the lack of respect for European rugby.
The two biggest contributing factors to what appears to be a growing divide between the quality of teams from either hemisphere are the north’s amateur ideals and the south’s defensive fortitude.
Irish provincial side Connacht are searching for a new head coach. Though the brief for the position makes reference to an “ability to ultimately deliver tanglible success”, a knack for winning games seems to be of less importance than “a philosophy of playing positive, attacking and adaptable rugby”.
The record books show that “positive, attacking” rugby doesn’t win professional championships, but that’s not what many European clubs are after.
The likes of Connacht – who have never finished better than 8th in the Celtic League – are in the business of luring sponsors by selling tickets to spectators who would otherwise spend their disposable income on a rival sporting code.
And the resultant drive to put on a show by playing “positive, attacking” rugby does nothing to help Ireland identify players capable of matching the Springboks in the Test arena.
The learning curve at the international level for players from such clubs has been made even steeper by the radical improvement of the Sanzar nations’ defensive systems.
In 2004, the Brumbies topped the Super 12 standings, scoring 55 tries and conceding 29 in 11 matches. This season, the Stormers finished the league phase of the Super 15 in first place after scoring 28 tries and allowing just 21 visits to their in-goal area in 16 games.
European players, who have only ever been exposed to the ideals of the amateur era, will find it increasingly difficult to break through defensive lines that have been galvanised by the intensity of Super Rugby.
And, while it’s fun to watch England lose, it makes rugby less appealing to a global audience.