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Northern Hemisphere v Southern Hemisphere

by Leana Kell

One of the facts we can clearly take away from this year's Rugby World Cup is the ever-increasing divide between the Northern Hemisphere and Southern Hemisphere teams. In the semi-finals and finals, the four remaining teams were all from the southern hemisphere and this was no surprise to most of us. In short, the southern teams are simply more skilled.

Looking at past history, the southern hemisphere teams have been beating us for years. the Springboks went 59 years without being defeated in Europe from 1906, while the All Blacks first visited in 1905 and lost only one match out of 124 in Ireland, Scotland and England between then and 1972 when they finally lost out to the North-West Counties. It is a constant source of rugby debate, and ever more so during this year's Rugby World Cup.

Since the World Cup began in 1987, the southern lead has been 6 to 1 and with the All Black's latest win on Saturday, the overall score has now been taken to 7-1 to the southern hemisphere.

Why are the northern hemisphere currently the losing side?

One thing that has remained constant since the start of the Rugby World Cup and that is the excellence of the All Blacks whose winning percentage remains extremely high against Europe's best teams. Furthermore, the statistics have grown even more overwhelming with the addition of South Africa and Australia. Once comparatively vulnerable to the stronger European teams, both sides have proved more than once they can now confidently put Europe away.

Prior to the World Cup, Stuart Lancaster's team were confident they could give the southern hemisphere trio a run for their money, but after the results from this year's cup, it would suggest that the gap, if anything, has now become even wider.

Tom Cary said: I reject the theory that we do not produce skilful players in the northern hemisphere. We just don’t value them enough.

"England have players with talent and vision… the Six Nations just doesn’t encourage them to play fast, skilful, attacking, offloading rugby from 1-15."

What New Zealand, Australia and Argentina have done differently to England is to prioritise skills over all else, which has allowed them to play an expansive, high-tempo game built around offloading.

In addition, the southern hemisphere players have come straight from the Rugby Championship that only finished in August. During the Championship, Argentina gained regular exposure to a higher tempo and skills which enabled them to survive and successfully compete against the world's best teams at the Rugby World Cup.

How can the northern hemisphere improve before the World Cup 2019?

Steve James said: "For me it is about finding the balance in how the international game is played. You need a powerful set piece, the physicality to win the collisions and defend well, plus the creativity out wide and the dexterity and athleticism within the forward group to unlock good defences. None of the northern hemisphere sides has got all those three bases fully covered. They all lack in at least one of those areas.

Tom Cary said: "Change the culture. Put more emphasis on skills from 1-15. Commit to it. It may result in a few thrashings in the Six Nations but looking at the best sides in the world, that has to be the way forward.

"Don’t be fooled by Graham Henry saying we 'should stick to what we know' and 'stop trying to copy the All Blacks'. Of course we should try to copy them; they play rugby from the Gods!"

Richard Bath said: "Above all, the northern hemisphere sides need to play their southern hemisphere sides far more regularly in order to sharpen their skills under the most extreme pressure. We’ve seen the enormous strides Argentina have made simply by prolonged exposure to the best in the world, and we should do our best to replicate that.

At the close of this year's Rugby World Cup, the one fact we can take with us is that the southern hemisphere have remained exactly where they were before the World Cup, ahead of their northern hemisphere rivals, but not unbeatable.