Peter Bills: Rugby's world order re-asserts itself

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Britain, Ireland and northern France was blanketed by snow this morning. By contrast, the southern hemisphere basks in warm sunshine and that cosy sense of world rugby supremacy. The seasons and years come and go, but nothing much changes...

In London, we thought we’d spied an early spring a couple of weeks ago when England beat Australia. But normal service was resumed in the November internationals at the weekend when the South Africans beat up Martin Johnson’s men to record a victory so much more imposing than a 21-11 score line suggests.

Indeed, all over the northern hemisphere through this month of November, rugby’s world order has re-asserted itself. The southern hemisphere rules, OK? And there’s no disputing it.

The All Blacks won yet another northern hemisphere Grand Slam, with Saturday’s victory in Cardiff. Some said Graham Henry’s men were well short of their best and Dan Carter had an off day. Good job for Wales, seeing as they still lost by five tries to one. It’s horrible to think what a fully firing All Blacks side might have done.

New Zealand played a strong, powerful, penetrative, fast and inventive game on their tour that was quite beyond the wit and imagination of any opponent. Above all, they did the basics consistently well. England gave them a game, Ireland likewise. Yet England lost by 10 points, Ireland by 20. What does that tell us about the respective strengths of the game in the two hemispheres?

Then there were the Springboks. They sort of drifted in and out of their tour, dining a la carte, as it were. ‘Fancy this dish today, boys? ‘No, not really, but we’ll have a mouthful or two, just to keep up appearances’ sort of thing...

But when the real dish of the tour arrived, they devoured the body England with a relish that suggested deep down, if you strip away all the fatigue and coaching shenanigans, these players still have a proper appetite for this sort of stuff.

Perhaps the strangest sight of the month was the Australians, poor little weaklings up front where they haven’t had a decent scrum for the best part of a decade now, blitzing the French 59-16 in a frozen Paris.

As Wallaby tries rained down, seven of them against just one, you wondered at a nation that gave the world rugby geniuses like the brilliant Boniface brothers, Jo Maso, Pierre Villepreux, Didier Codorniou, Jean Gachassin and Christian Darrouy. Tragically, that great legacy is, for the moment at least, completely lost. France to win the 2011 World Cup? Do me a favour.

Australia might, if they could ever find a couple of props. For they have the ability to light up a game with a sudden spark of creativity. If they retain that characteristic at the World Cup they will be dangerous opponents.

And finally, what of the home nations? Ireland demonstrated against the All Blacks they can hurt teams if they truly buy into the philosophy allowed by these new law interpretations. But their coaches must subscribe to the mantra and give them their heads. They, like Australia, also badly need a couple of power props, plus a world class No.7.

England are clearly on the right road and have some players able to embrace the possibilities of this new game. But not enough. For a start, they need two real international class centres.

Scotland will do what Scotland always do; frustrate, tackle, negate and kick goals. It will be enough to win the odd match, but they lack the capacity to play a broader game.

As for Wales, they talk a top game but increasingly rarely deliver. Somehow, the sum of the parts never quite adds up to the whole.