Wales claimed their second successive 6 Nations title on the weekend, cementing their status as the dominant presence in Northern Hemisphere Rugby over the last two years. In between sweeping all before them in Europe’s premier competition though they lost 4 times to an injury ravaged Wallabies’ team, were hammered by the All Blacks and beaten at home by both the Pumas and the Samoans. So is it really saying much to claim to be the best the North has to offer?
If I noticed one thing from the title-deciding match between England and Wales on the weekend it was how little the game has moved on in the Northern Hemisphere. Sure, it was an interesting clash, with both sides having opportunities in the first 50 or 60 minutes to assert their dominance. But there was very little skill on display, with neither side looking likely to create anything from scratch on attack, and both sides making the other look better than they really were on defence. The game consisted of backlines running aimlessly sideways, kickers who couldn’t see past simply lofting the ball as high as they could and hoping for the best, and forwards who were woefully inept at the breakdown.
If Wales really are the best the North has to offer I feel sorry for fans of rugby living above the equator. While the weekend’s game was full of tense drama and passion it featured all the skills of an amateur club match in New Zealand, and, having watched Wales and England do battle I’m not surprised the 6 Nations champions were unable to beat Samoa at home, and I suspect every one of the 6 Nations sides will be shuddering at the thought of the next tour by Fiji, Tonga, or even the Cook Islands.
That Wales lost to New Zealand says little – they faced a red-hot All Blacks side bursting with confidence. But in losing no less than four times to the Australians, particularly given how much the Wallabies struggled last year, and being comprehensively beaten by the Pumas, one could be forgiven for drawing the conclusion that the best of the Northern Hemisphere struggles to keep pace with the Southern Hemisphere’s top sides. The Red Dragons’ loss to Samoa simply proves that statement.
Samoa are a challenging, physical test for any country, but I would still expect the All Blacks and the Springboks to comfortably account for the Pacific Islanders every time they play, and for the Aussies to prevail on most occasions. That Wales are bad enough to lose at home to a side notorious for being poor travellers yet claim successive 6 Nations titles says much about the level of the game in the UK. Sure, the English may have played out of their skins to beat the ABs at the end of last year, but they needed the help of a virus doing the rounds at the World Champions’ hotel to do so, and if the European sides have any hope in 2015 they may have to rely on the Southern Hemisphere sides’ forgetting to get their flu-jabs before heading over.