We must end this southern hemisphere obsession

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The Scots may not relish the comparison, but the Duke of Wellington won the Battle ofWaterloo partly because of the rain. Admittedly it came down beforehand rather than during the battle itself. Nevertheless the general principle holds good. There are certain outdoor activities, particularly in northern Europe, where you cannot rely on the weather.

The Scots may not relish the comparison, but the Duke of Wellington won the Battle ofWaterloo partly because of the rain. Admittedly it came down beforehand rather than during the battle itself. Nevertheless the general principle holds good. There are certain outdoor activities, particularly in northern Europe, where you cannot rely on the weather.

Several commentators have suggested that in the southern hemisphere you can, sunny day succeeding sunny day, as on the French Riviera. Have they never heard of the New Zealand winter, or the unpredictability of the climate in South Africa?

Just as dear old Bill McLaren was proclaiming at half-time on Sunday from Murrayfield that the conditions, though on the chilly side, were ideal for rugby, the rain was visibly coming down in sheets. The rest we know. At this stage England were leading 10-9. The implication in many subsequent accounts is that, if the rain had held off, the visitors would have consolidated their lead.

Watching on television, I thought they would. I thought so after Scotland were awarded a penalty just outside the English 22. Duncan Hodge, who had a Boys' Own Paper match, opted (or his captain, Andy Nicol, opted) to kick for the corner. England cleared fairly easily - though Scott Murray and Richard Metcalfe otherwise outperformed the English jumpers - and three points went begging.

I was wrong about the effect of this loss on Scottish morale, right about the unprofitability of the kick to the corner. I was encouraged that Jonathan Davies, McLaren's colleague on this occasion, agreed with me. Rugby, despite the recent emphasis on "stats", is and always has been ill-served statistically. I should like to know the proportion of penalty kicks into the corner which result in tries. I suspect the figure is well below 50 per cent: in which case it is foolish to trade a probable three points for a speculative five and an even less likely seven points.

A still more disputed aspect of the modern game is the tap penalty. Throughout the international season Matt Dawson had made it his speciality. On Sunday the Scots managed to contain him, quite how I do not know, for under the laws as they stand the ploy is almost impossible to counter legally.

In this respect the tap penalty is rather like the rolling maul, now somewhat out of fashion. Modern rugby is a game in which fashion rules as it does in the rag trade just north of Oxford Street in London, as much among referees - think of the ebb and flow of the penalty try - as among players.

The sensible course is to prohibit the tap-taker from touching the ball until the defending side have retreated 10 metres. This, I know, would slow up the game. But if it is perpetual motion you want, why not take up rugby league instead?

Once again, however, the European - now the Six Nations - Championship has proved an excellent competition. That the top three in a Nine Nations' Championship would probably be, in whatever order, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, does not detract from the merits of what we have in the northern hemisphere. After all, New Zealand and South Africa have always been better at rugby than we are. Australia, with three rival sports - as many as there are in Ireland - have in the last decade or so become the best of all. We should be grateful for what we have, and cease being so obsessed with the southern hemisphere.

It is too early to pick the Lions for Australia in 2001. The players who are cock of the walk in April 2000 may, in the words of the former Australian coach, Alan Jones, be feather dusters in a year's time. Think of the stars at the end of last season.

The outstanding wing was Dan Luger. The leading inside centre was not Scott Gibbs, despite his try against England, but John Leslie. The top scrum-half was Robert Howley. The Quinnell brothers, admittedly, were even then reminiscent of the little girl who had a little curl, right at the top of her forehead: "When they were good they were very, very good, but when they were bad they were horrid." Even so, it was difficult to imagine a Welsh pack without them. Likewise, it would have been hard to pick an England second row that did not contain Martin Johnson.

Luger, Leslie, Gibbs (despite a good defensive performance against Ireland), Howley, the Quinnell brothers and Johnson have all had miserable seasons, sometimes through no fault of their own. I hope they will be back in contention in 2001. In the meantime, several bright sparks have ignited. The following team is based on performances in 2000. Peter Rogers incidentally, discomposed every tight-head prop he played against; so it is reasonable to chose David Young as his partner.

BRITISH ISLES 2000: R Williams (Wales); S Horgan (Ireland), B O'Driscoll (Ireland), M Catt (England), S Williams (Wales); J Wilkinson (England), M Dawson (England); P Rogers (Wales), K Wood (Ireland, capt), D Young (Wales), S Murray (Scotland), M O'Kelly (Ireland), L Dallaglio (England), M Leslie (Scotland), N Back (England).

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