SPIRO: IRB take note: All Blacks 1, Wallabies 2, Boks 3 in rankings
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All Blacks player Aaron Smith gets past the tackle of Brian O'Driscoll. AFP PHOTO / Michael Bradley
After the weekend’s round of Tests, which saw the All Blacks thrash Ireland, the Wallabies trounce Wales, the Springboks smash England and the Pumas demolish Italy, the IRB has published the latest world rankings table.
The short message from the table is that the southern hemisphere teams totally dominate world rugby.
This assertion is obvious when the rankings are listed in order: New Zealand 1, Australia 2, South Africa 3, England 4, Wales 5, France 6, Argentina 7, Ireland 8, Samoa 9, Tonga 10, Scotland 11, Italy 12.
The top three teams in the world are the southern hemisphere powers, the All Blacks, the Wallabies and the Springboks.
The next three teams are the Six Nations powers, England, Wales and France.
The Pumas, who join the SANZAR countries for the new international tournament The Rugby Championship that replaces the former Tri Nations tournament, are above the other three Six Nations, Ireland, Scotland and Italy.
Scotland and Italy, in fact, are ranked below Samoa and Tonga.
What all this suggests is that the Six Nations is becoming a second rate tournament.
It might draw the crowds, but the quality of rugby played in it is well below the level established by the Tri Nations, and no doubt, in the new The Rugby Championship.
This same assertion can be made about the iconic Heineken Cup tournament.
Two Irish provinces played out the final, with Leinster coming out on top. But Ireland’s performance against the All Blacks last Saturday was a bit like a cart-horse racing a thoroughbred.
One of the reasons why the southern hemisphere powers are so dominant is that the Super Rugby tournament is far and away the strongest club/franchise tournament anywhere in the world.
When England was dominant for a couple of years before and during the 2003 RWC tournament, it was commonly argued by UK rugby writers (no names, no pack drill but the leader of this misguided pack had the initial of SJ) that the reason for the dominance was the ‘fluff and bubble’ of Super Rugby compared with the real thing of European rugby, with its obsession with the kicking and the slow-plod grinding forward game.
Sam Warburton, the young and impressive captain of Wales, told journalists that he and his side could not cope with the speed of the Wallabies game last Saturday, especially in the first half.
This was a Wallaby side with players backing up from a Test four days before.
Admittedly, the Wallabies lost that Test to Scotland.
But the result was a total aberration that was dependent on some of the worse conditions a Test match has been played under.
The ARU sold 25,000 tickets for the Test. But only 20,000 people turned out in the driving rain and bitter cold to watch a numbed, frozen Wallaby side fumble its way to a loss.
The Wallabies showed against Wales that under normal conditions they would monster Scotland.
And we have to remember in the light of the strong victory against Wales that Wales are the current Six Nations champions. They went into the Test with what they said was the best squad Wales has sent overseas for 30 years.
But within minutes of play, according to Warburton, Wales was finding it hard to keep pace with the Wallabies.
Ireland had the same experience against the All Blacks.
They couldn’t match it with a side that seems to be liberated from the hoodoo of not winning the RWC tournament for 24 years. It has become normal practice for teams winning the RWC tournament to lose form in the years after their victory.
My feeling is that is not going to happen to the All Blacks. In all probability they could be even more impressive in the next couple of years than they were in the past few years. And this feeling is backed by Jake White who said he was most impressed with the quality of play of the All Blacks under their new coach, Steve Hansen.
The scary thing for Ireland this weekend is that the All Blacks scored five tries against them in the first Test without practising any attack movements. Last week was about getting their set pieces and defence in place, some of the players asserted. This week’s training will add in some new attacking plays. God help the likeable Irish if these plays are put in place and then put into operation with some efficiency.
The feature of the Springboks defeat of England was the way its scrum demolished England’s scrum.
The Springboks won two penalties and three short arm penalties from scrums.
Again, in the past, the normal suspects of the NH rugby hemisphere have continually bagged Super Rugby for the way, they claim, it diminishes the importance of the set pieces.
Well, tell that now to England, a side whose scrum is generally its major ploy to gain points (from penalties).
The punch-line to all of this is that the 100 years of dominance of the IRB by the so-called Home Unions is out-dated and needs to be changed.
There should be more power invested with the southern hemisphere powers in the running of the game and, importantly, how the game should be played.
This refers to the way the laws are written. It is safe to say that virtually every improvement in reforming the laws of rugby has been opposed initially, at least, by the all-powerful Home Unions. And to the way rugby is played.
Apparently, the British commentators were very critical of David Pocock’s terrific poaching at the ruck and mauls against Wales. There was a clear implication in the criticism that he was cheating.
This cheating refrain from northern hemisphere rugby writers is as old as the tour of the UK and France by the 1905 All Blacks. The team’s captain, Dave Gallaher, was the first great loose forward in the history of the game. Throughout the tour he had to continually argue against the claims that his wing-forward game was based on cheating. Some matches involved him being penalised up to 30 times in a match.
This cheating refrain was continued in more modern times by the arch English rugby writer John Reason (‘Unreason’ to New Zealanders) when he covered tours of New Zealand by British teams.
In more recent times the inaccurate bile has been levelled against Richie McCaw. Now it is Pocock’s turn to get the cheating accusation.
Brian Moore, the former hard-head England hooker and now an excellent columnist for the UK Daily Telegraph, suggests that the UK rugby commentariat gets realistic and accept that players like Pocock and McCaw work within the laws of rugby.
The best response from British rugby, he insists, is for the UK loose forwards to study how Pocock and McCaw do their fetching and imitate them, if they can.
With Bernard Lapasset, a stalwart of French rugby, taking over the presidency of the IRB, there has been a series of significant reforms in the governance of rugby and in making the game a more athletic and attractive sport to play and watch.
The blazer brigade of the Home Unions have resisted some of these changes, like the push of Sevens Rugby into the Olympics. But the momentum of power away from the Home Unions is on its way, and this is about time.
One final point to make is that Matt Carroll, an outstanding administrator with the ARU, is on the short-list to become the new CEO of the IRB. If this appointment is made it will be an important step in dragging the recalcitrant Home Unions into the 21st century of the rugby game.
The nations that play rugby better than any other countries, and have done so (especially with the Springboks and All Blacks) for most of the last 100 years of the game) should have the strongest voice in how the rugby game should be played and organised.
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Spiro Zavos, a founding writer on The Roar, was long time editorial writer on the Sydney Morning Herald, where he started a rugby column that has run for nearly 30 years. Spiro has written 12 books: fiction, biography, politics and histories of Australian, New Zealand, British and South African rugby. He is regarded as one of the foremost writers on rugby throughout the world.
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