Rugby: Northern hemisphere nations on the rise
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