Peter Bills: Six Nations proves southern hemisphere has little to fear at World Cup

Ireland had its Captain Fantastic, Wales a wily ball boy who slipped an important pass to a Welsh player for the illegal match winning try against Ireland.

Italy had its moment in the Rome spring sunshine with victory over France; England had its day of reckoning in Dublin.



As for Scotland, they had a bulldog English coach who talked them up, while the French seemed to be like a rooster that had nothing much to crow about.



If ever the 6 Nations rugby championship was a mixed bag it was in 2011. But the overriding message to emerge from five weekends of hectic international action is that the leading countries of the southern hemisphere have little to fear at this year’s World Cup.



The overall standard of rugby played was at best ordinary, but more often poor. In a technical sense, it was often lamentable. Scotland v Italy in Edinburgh last Saturday looked as though it was being played at half pace.



Much had been made of England’s so-called renaissance. Alas, it lasted only until Dublin when the Irish, as delightfully perverse as ever, produced the performance of the entire championship to sweep away any prospect of an England Grand Slam.



Ireland were as good against their oldest foe as they had been poor in defeat against France and Wales. But then, that trend was seen over and over again.



No country could sustain a level of excellence for long. Some never managed it for an entire 80 minutes all season; others did in one game but then slipped back in the next.



Inconsistency, technical errors and indiscipline abounded. Only in rare moments was any excellence to be spotted. England earned close victories over Wales, France and Scotland while Ireland struggled even to put away the limited Scots and Italians.



Indiscipline was notorious in Irish ranks, until their last game against England. Until then, they were handing out penalties to opponents like mothers offering sweets to children at parties. But the prize for the greatest moment of humour in the entire tournament goes to Welsh coach Warren Gatland.



Prior to the Wales-Ireland match in Cardiff, Gatland kept a straight face and told the media he was deeply worried about Ireland’s indiscipline, promising to discuss it with match referee Jonathan Kaplan. What he omitted to say was that, at that time, Wales had conceded more penalties than anyone in the Championship.



Gallows humour of that nature was to be welcomed for it was largely a joyless tournament. With every coach wearing an expression most humans reserve for the hangman, how could it be otherwise? Scotland coach Andy Robinson prowled his coach’s box like a caged lion; Martin Johnson thumped his fist onto the table when play went wrong during England games.



As for French coach Marc Lievremont, he greeted the shock single point defeat in Italy, France’s first ever to the Italians, with the words “cowardice” and “betrayal” to describe some of his own players. The French camp became as happy a place as Dunkirk, in 1940.



In general, the level of ball skills was atrocious. Passes were thrown at colleague’s feet or behind their ears, whilst the recipient often took the ball standing still. Brian O’Driscoll, supposedly one of the world’s best centres, threw a pass straight over a colleague’s head into touch when presented with a simple 2 on 1 advantage near the Italian try line.



Pace and dynamism were rarely seen, Ireland’s all-action display against England on the final day of the season, the only really serious exception.



That old northern hemisphere trait of flopping over the ball at the breakdown was still in evidence while most referees ignored the constant infringement of players encroaching beyond the rear-most feet at the breakdown which meant any real attacking play among the backs was at a premium.



Off-loading, the oxygen of continuity in the modern game, again came second to the macho inclinations of players to charge the tackler. Even after all the evidence from New Zealand and Australia, too many northern hemisphere players are still searching for contact first, space second.



All things being equal, this all ought to come home to roost at the World Cup this September. The sides who have properly embraced the new game with its attacking possibilities ought to sweep aside all these inferior opponents.



But northern hemisphere countries continue to hope that New Zealand won’t be able to play so dynamic and attack-minded a game in a World Cup. Thus, a country like England could yet go a long way, by focusing on defence and kicking penalties, as they did in 2007.



But what the northern hemisphere needs for its own long term prosperity and success is to see the light at this World Cup. There is only one way that can happen.

Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tvWhy BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
News
Campbell: ‘Sometimes you have to be economical with the truth’
newsFormer spin doctor says MPs should study tactics of leading sports figures like José Mourinho
Sport
football
Life and Style
Agretti is often compared to its relative, samphire, though is closer in taste to spinach
food + drink
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Kelly Osbourne will play a flight attendant in Sharknado 2
people
News
Down-to-earth: Winstone isn't one for considering his 'legacy'
people
News
The dress can be seen in different colours
i100
Sport
Wes Brown is sent-off
football
Voices
Lance Corporal Joshua Leakey VC
voicesBeware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Life and Style
Alexander McQueen's AW 2009/10 collection during Paris Fashion Week
fashionMeet the collaborators who helped create the late designer’s notorious spectacles
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003
Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

Dinner through the decades

A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

Philippa Perry interview

The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

Harry Kane interview

The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?