Peter Bills: All that matters is money in the northern hemisphere

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The Independent Online

Oh well, there's always the Six Nations Championship to anticipate, that wondrous northern hemisphere tournament where no-one worries much about the standard of rugby as long as the foie gras is fine in Paris, the Guinness great in Dublin and the lager on tap in London.

This last weekend, the sound of chickens coming home to roost in northern hemisphere rugby has been positively deafening. For 40 minutes in Cardiff, Wales bravely and commendably made a real effort and led 9-3 at one stage. But when the All Blacks upped the tempo in the second half, it was one way traffic. 9-29 and not a score to disguise the reality……

England were overrun by South Africa at Twickenham, France beaten in Paris by 'Cobber' Robbie Deans' Wallabies. This large helping of humble pie at every rugby man's table in the northern hemisphere should herald a re-think, a study of why the game in this part of the world has again been left behind by the southern hemisphere.

But it won't. When you put weekends in Rome, Paris and London ahead of the actual product on the field, when you study only your own bank balances and ignore the fare presented in front of you, there can be no proper judgement made by the countries of the northern hemisphere. All that matters in this part of the world is money, the filthy lucre. If that is swilling around and the national Unions and clubs are filling their snouts at the trough, then all is well. Nor does it seem to bother the patrons that they're largely watching second grade stuff most of the time.

At least Wales were in the hunt for 40 minutes in Cardiff. They understood the need for fast, second phase ruck ball and off-loading in the tackle to have any hope of playing the modern game successfully. England, five years to the day after they won the World Cup, weren't at the party at Twickenham against the World Champions for half that time whilst France were inferior in Paris. All this tells a revealing story. The northern hemisphere has been studying its own navel, content with the view, for too long. This autumn Test series has underlined that all is far from well with the game in this part of the world.

Perhaps the difficulty confronting New Zealand, South Africa and Australia is knowing exactly what they have beaten. 9-3 after 23 minutes was as good as it got for Wales. They showed plenty of spirit and New Zealand's judgement wasn't always that great, especially Rodney So'oialo picking up a ball at the base of a first half scrum with the Welsh pack in headlong retreat.

There were too many elementary errors in the All Blacks' play of the first hour. Crooked scrum feeds were daft and at the breakdown early on, Richie McCaw was lucky not to get yellow carded for diving through the ruck to deny Wales fast second phase ball in a crucial position.

At least Wales understood the need for pace and dynamism at this level. England looked leaden footed, like weary foot soldiers at Twickenham, players just hanging about waiting for something to happen. Too often, they took the ball standing still, a heinous crime. Against a defence of South Africa's quality, it was meat and drink for the visitors.

At Cardiff, the pressure gradually told, especially in the second half. The New Zealanders' ability to secure rapid second phase ball was the key, for Wales were left gasping trying to fill the gaps. The All Blacks took the ball into contact with such confidence of securing it, that it became an object lesson for the Welsh. They showed too that innate sense of what to do in a particular situation. In that respect, they were light years ahead of Wales.

You can bet the last Bluff oyster that the All Blacks will complete their Grand Slam tour this weekend at Twickenham. But given the poverty of the northern hemisphere challenge at this time, you have to wonder just how meritorious an achievement that will be. Surely their Tri-Nations triumph is far ahead of this likely success.