Hard to ad­mit but north clos­ing gap

Herald on Sunday - - SPORT -

The All Blacks’ end-of-year tour should again tell us plenty about the rel­a­tive strengths be­tween “us” and “them”.

North v South — that great philo­soph­i­cal di­vide around the way rugby should be played.

While the Bri­tish press have been ob­sessed with talk­ing up next year’s much awaited show­down against Ed­die Jones’s Eng­land, many see the north as our big­gest hur­dle to over­come in win­ning a third straight World Cup in 2019.

For­mer All Blacks cap­tain, Sean Fitz­patrick reck­ons he’s seen a marked change in the ap­proach of Eng­land and Ire­land, with an em­pha­sis on skills and fit­ness as op­posed to brawn.

But will Kiwi fans ever truly rate the north?

Which brings me to Warren Gat­land’s new book.

Many sport­ing bi­ogra­phies pass over my desk, but In the Line of Fire is prob­a­bly the most con­found­ing.

Here’s a coach who pulled off a mi­nor mir­a­cle, a drawn test se­ries in New Zealand, af­ter the likes of Gra­ham Henry la­belled it a “sui­cide mis­sion”.

Yet, for the most part Gat­land is just ‘Grumpy Gats’ — tak­ing aim at the me­dia and rais­ing ques­tions about Kiwi fans.

“New Zealand is hy­per­sen­si­tive,” Gat­land writes. “Thou does not crit­i­cise a coun­try or a rugby cul­ture that boasts back-toback world cham­pi­ons.”

Could he have a point? Have seven-plus years of glo­ri­ous world dom­i­na­tion made us ar­ro­gant?

I know the All Black coaches are of­ten frus­trated by some fans’ lack of ba­sic cour­tesy in pay­ing trib­ute to the op­po­si­tion.

For the last World Cup the All Blacks played the charm of­fen­sive.

It worked a treat and the All Blacks were pop­u­lar cham­pi­ons.

But, with our World Cup curse bro­ken and ev­ery ma­jor tro­phy locked away — have we de­vel­oped a God com­plex?

Per­haps we should open our minds to the con­cept that we may not be as far ahead of the pack as we were 12 months ago . . .

The Lions were pretty good. The Wal­la­bies de­served to win the fi­nal Bledis­loe test and we will not see a re­peat of 2015, when Southern Hemi­sphere sides owned the semi­fi­nals, in Ja­pan.

As hard as this is to put into words . . . the north­ern­ers are get­ting bet­ter.

Warren Gat­land’s book baf­fles.

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