Northern drubbings give Deans, Hansen plenty to stew on

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    Steve Hansen wouldn't put up with accusations that his side are dirty, but a high shot is a high shot. AAP Images

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    It is a slightly cheeky exercise but add together the two standout performances from the Spring tours and you end up with a total of Northern Hemisphere heavyweights 71, Southern Hemisphere 24.

    The two outstanding displays of the campaign came from those clad in the blue of France and white of England. It has not turned the rugby world on its head, but the axis has been tilted somewhat.

    Those pair of hidings – and let’s call them what they were and dispense with the excuses – will add some real focus to the reviews the Wallabies and All Blacks conduct over the coming months before they resume again in 2013.

    There will be concern in both camps that failure to subdue the power forward games of the Six Nations favourites exposed some defensive frailties as the matches went on.

    A lack of cutting edge and some players heading towards at their sell-by dates are separate issues that will tax Deans and Hansen respectively.

    The most impressive thing about the English victory against the All Blacks was the age of the squad. This England team will have plenty of stumbles ahead but with an average age of just 24 they are not at their peak. It is no coincidence.

    After getting the job their thorough head coach, Stuart Lancaster, presented a three-year plan that outlined exactly how many caps the England team would have by the 2015 World Cup, identifying options in each position.

    Four-fifths of the tight five at Twickenham were 25 or under. The oldest man in the team, second-rower Geoff Parling, will only be 32 by the time 2015 comes around.

    They will not lose anyone from last weekend’s match to the twin enemies of physical deterioration or sated mental desire by the time they face the Wallabies in the the group stage in 2015.

    It will not be the case in New Zealand. Take a look at their 30 or over club and names such as Dan Carter, Richie McCaw, Ma’a Nonu, Conrad Smith, Andrew Hore, Tony Woodcock, and Keven Mealamu appear.

    There is no way all of that group can make it until 2015 and the ones that do will run the risk of it being at a tournament too far.

    The All Blacks have done a very good job of introducing new players into their squad this year, but some painful culling of some decorated warriors is coming in the next few years.

    They are keenly aware of it of course, already dipping into the 2011 Under-20s this year. There might be some more rapid elevations in 2013 from that junior world championship squad, especially at hooker, number six and second row, with events in London giving succession planning a sharp kick along.

    It is why that under-20s competition has become such a vital component in the total national rugby program.

    It will not surprise to hear that England were the side the young New Zealanders beat in the 2011 final. Both nations have paid attention to planning.

    Australian challenges are of a different nature. They have plenty of youth but are they on the right course?

    The talk all year has been of injuries but you would suspect the management group are too savvy to let that be overused as a reason for the uninspiring attack.

    On occasions the side was indisputably ravaged with casualties but over the Test campaigns as whole Will Genia played just two fewer Tests than Dan Carter. Nor was the side that beat Wales at the weekend so depleted.

    In fact, compared to the starting side that scored three tries to beat a stronger Wales side in December 2011, it included Wycliff Palu, Kurtley Beale, Nick Cummins, Nathan Sharpe and Ben Alexander in exchange for Ben McCalman, James O’Connor, Lachie Turner, Rob Simmons and Salesi Ma’afu.

    Instead, inquiries will be posed as to why the smart coaching to outwit England – finding room in behind the defence in a way the All Blacks did not – was not in evidence more frequently.

    Over the year there was clever stuff among the disappointing, but not enough of it.

    Amazingly, in eight hours of Test rugby against the world’s four top-ranked sides in 2012 only one back, Mike Harris, managed a try – a consolation effort against the Springboks in Pretoria.

    Chuck in another four hours of back-line drought at the World Cup against Ireland, South Africa and New Zealand and you have an issue – a significant one – that will be taxing the strategists.

    Paul Cully
    Paul Cully

    Paul Cully is a freelance journalist who was born in New Zealand, raised in Northern Ireland, but spent most of his working life in Australia. He is a former Sun-Herald sports editor, rugby tragic, and current Roar and RugbyHeaven contributor.

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