Rugby: North­ern hemi­sphere na­tions on the rise

Kuwait Times - - SPORTS -

New Zealand will end an­other stel­lar year as rugby’s un­doubted num­ber one team but the gap be­tween north­ern and south­ern hemi­sphere na­tions has shrunk con­sid­er­ably af­ter an au­tumn of un­prece­dented suc­cess for Europe.

Fol­low­ing the north­ern hemi­sphere’s hu­mil­i­a­tion at last year’s World Cup, when they failed to sup­ply one semi-fi­nal­ist in a tour­na­ment played in Bri­tain, the south­ern na­tions have been hunted down and picked off with rare fre­quency in 2016.

The score­board be­tween the Six Na­tions and the Rugby Cham­pi­onship reads 8-6 to the Euro­peans, with just Eng­land against Aus­tralia to come on Satur­day.

That turn­around does not seem to be a flash in the pan ei­ther. Ire­land’s no­table vic­tory over New Zealand meant that they have beaten the south­ern Big Three in the same year for the first time.

Eng­land are seek­ing a fourth suc­ces­sive vic­tory over the Wal­la­bies while Italy and Wales se­cured his­toric wins over an ail­ing South Africa, and Ar­gentina lost to Scot­land, Wales and Eng­land.

The les­son from Ire­land’s 40-29 win over the All Blacks in Chicago was the value of am­bi­tion. For 80 min­utes New Zealand were har­ried into mis­takes and they buck­led un­der the pres­sure.

The All Blacks re­stored or­der two weeks later by beat­ing up the Ir­ish - some would say lit­er­ally - in Dublin, but they are no longer the sport’s in­vin­ci­bles and last week France ran them close be­fore go­ing down 24-19 in Paris.

Of course, a clash with Eng­land would have rounded the year off nicely, but Twick­en­ham will have to wait at least an­other year for that one.

More im­me­di­ately, the 2017 Six Na­tions looks like be­ing ex­tra-com­pet­i­tive with Vern Cot­ter’s Scot­land im­prov­ing rapidly af­ter two au­tumn wins, France glo­ri­ously un­pre­dictable as ever and Italy buoyed by their great­est vic­tory, over South Africa.

Fit­tingly, the two most im­pres­sive Euro­pean per­form­ers this year - Eng­land and Ire­land - meet in the tour­na­ment’s 15th and fi­nal match in what will be a thun­der­ous at­mos­phere in Dublin.—Reuters

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