Northern Hemisphere having their moment in the sun

Elisha Pearce Columnist

By , Elisha Pearce is a Roar Expert

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    About 13 months ago, all four Rugby World Cup semi-final spots were taken up by Southern Hemisphere teams. Last weekend, Australia, South Africa and Argentina lost to Home Union sides, and the World Champions beat France by just five points.

    By contrast, New Zealand beat France in the quarter-final of the World Cup 62-13.

    Yes, it’s the end of a long season for the travelling teams, but after four or five weeks of Spring Tour action, we’ve seen the home teams put in enough strong performances to suggest the gulf between the two hemispheres has narrowed or closed.

    Ireland beat New Zealand to break their world record streak of wins. Last year Ireland couldn’t get past Argentina in the quarter-finals, let alone touch the All Blacks. That’s a huge improvement.

    In the return match, Ireland forced New Zealand to completely narrow their focus to win – they reduced the flair, ground it out and relied on a few moments of brilliance. No one has forced the All Blacks into that kind of tight game plan in a long time.

    A week later, the Irish snuffed out the Wallabies.

    A bit of a lull or fall off after two tough Tests against New Zealand, coming off a tough home loss might have been expected, but Ireland were on the ball. From the first minute they made it hard for Australia to find their feet.

    After 14 minutes – around the time you can take the game statistics seriously – Ireland had retained 81 per cent of the possession.

    Watching the Wallabies try to compete and stay in the game, surviving on scraps, was fascinating. It was admirable and some solid defending was the only thing stopping the game from being over by halftime.

    But the Irish were more like an All Blacks opponent, squeezing and suffocating, while the Wallabies couldn’t weaken their hold by flipping field position or running through extended phases.

    Some people have complained about the refereeing in the match. The Irish were allowed to lie around the ruck a lot, but the referee did not lose the Wallabies that match. That is taking too much away from a strong Ireland outfit that didn’t give their opponents any breathing room all night.

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    Australia aren’t performing badly, but their win against Scotland was tighter than it should have been given the two sides’ pedigree – but, it turns out not based on the world rankings. Their win in Paris was squeaky as well.

    South Africa have been a wobbly mess all year. And a loss to Wales is another blemish on a poor tour from them.

    They opened to a 37-21 loss against England. That match was enlightening because England were able to win very comfortably, despite not playing well themselves and hardly getting out of second gear.

    It was an early market that England, and perhaps the Northern Hemisphere, have their house in order and the tourists were in for a tough month.

    But following that with a loss to Italy and a dismal, 14-point loss to Wales was poor, if not actually shocking.

    Allister Coetzee’s team has performed so badly that he doesn’t appear to be given any first-year leeway now. The fire under his coaching seat is red-hot, with speculation John Mitchell – ex-All Blacks and Western Force coach – might take his spot.

    In some ways a coaching change is inevitable, but the player performances have been poor as well. Many Springboks matches have lacked the same physicality and intensity (the real key) you would expect. That isn’t just the coaching, that’s players not giving it that extra effort in important moments.

    Argentina don’t usually offer the same cohesion and intensity on the Spring Tour as they do in the focused and intense atmosphere of the Rugby Championship. But their results are still below par compared to what they’d have hoped for.

    Two close losses to Wales and Scotland kicked things off poorly. Then they lost by 13 to England without troubling the scorers for the last 30 or so minutes of the match.

    Yep, you can’t deny that the Northern Hemisphere teams are having their moment in the sun this tour.

    If we ran back the World Cup right now, it’s hard to see any way four Southern Hemisphere teams would make the final four. New Zealand might be the only team that got in.

    England and Ireland would be odds-on to meet them there, and the Wallabies would be clawing for the fourth spot to even up the north-south tally. But it’d be a stressful play-in match against any of Wales, Scotland, France or Italy from what we’ve seen of late.

    The first year after a World Cup is always an odd one in the cycle, but there might be more at play here for the form and performance guides to have so comprehensively flipped in one year.

    Elisha Pearce
    Elisha Pearce

    Long-time Roarer Elisha Pearce joined us as a rugby union expert in 2015. He also works for Fairfax Media and has confused more Roarers with his name than anyone in the history of the site.