It’s tough living in someone else’s shadow.

That’s the fate these days of anyone in regular competition against New Zealand teams. You cop some dreadful drubbings. And know that you’re unlikely to come up with the chocolate at the end of the competition. This can be dispiriting and demotivating. Losing can be a terrible habit to break.

How Australian and South African rugby have suffered in recent years, nations with proud traditions now reduced to a battle for second. They have also been weakened by a number of their top players – and I don’t necessarily blame them – taking a sliver of the rich northern pie.

It’s even worse for Argentina, with what is effectively their test team struggling in Super Rugby, let alone the Rugby Championship. All of this has flowed on to some poor results against Northern Hemisphere teams since the last World Cup.

Thank goodness then for national coaching teams and players with fight and ability. They didn’t win the competitions, and they got hammered by the All Blacks once each when they were off their game, but boy did Australia and South Africa play their part in some great contests in the Rugby Championship and Bledisloe Cup.

If you take out the Argentina games, five out of seven had margins of five or less, with the Dunedin, Cape Town and Brisbane tests all classics. Nowhere else in rugby do you see such a combination of physicality, intensity and high-speed skill. It was a joy to watch.

Tours down under

The tours from the north this June/July produced very different rugby, but some fine battles. Scotland beat Australia, Fiji beat Scotland, South Africa regained some pride against France, a young England team showed plenty of flair in Argentina.

Ben Volavola is a special talent and played a huge role in Fiji defeating Scotland.
Ben Volavola is a special talent and played a huge role in Fiji defeating Scotland.

But the daddy of them all was the Lions epic. Warren Gatland swiftly brought together the best warriors of four warring nations to negate the dominant force in rugby. It wasn’t pretty, but it was one heck of a fight.

Add these to a tight Six Nations, played in front of passionate capacity crowds and ultimately settled by a late piece of Ford/Farrell/Daly magic away in Cardiff, and it’s clear that test rugby is still the ultimate and only profitable form of the game. It must be better protected from those loss-making clubs with their wages arms race, but that’s another story.

So where does the season leave us? Are Argentina badly weakened? Have South Africa and Australia turned the corner or were they flattered by a weakened All Blacks team? Have New Zealand come back to the pack or are they gaining valuable experience to their wider squad?

Rieko Ioane has been sensational this season. Will he spread his wings this November? © Copyright photo: Andrew Cornaga / www.Photosport.nz
Rieko Ioane has been sensational this season. Will he spread his wings this November?
© Copyright photo: Andrew Cornaga / www.Photosport.nz

We will know more by the end of next month. But for now, we can look back on a Southern Hemisphere season that has given us plenty of high quality, entertaining rugby.

I for one have enjoyed it immensely.

Photos: www.photosport.nz

Author: JD Kiwi

JD Kiwi currently lives in northern England, trying to find enough waking hours to work, be a devoted family man, and watch too much rugby. He supports the All Blacks, Chiefs and Waikato but also enjoys watching European rugby.

As a player he was was the shortest lock and slowest pace bowler in New Zealand. His favourite sporting achievement was winning the annual bowling cup for his small town Second XI.

9 COMMENTS

  1. I’ve really enjoyed the Rugby Championship, however I’m sometimes baffled by the way the New Zealand have blown a side away one week only to be hauled back a few weeks later, where as in the Six Nations the games always seem tighter and the nations closer together, Scotland beat Wales, Wales beat Ireland, Ireland beat England etc. Perhaps it’s because the Southern Hemisphere teams are willing to experiment more mid world cup cycle and are willing to drop a few games in the hope/expectation that their experimentation will reap rewards at the World Cup, whereas the Northern Hemisphere teams have been reluctant to experiment in any games (Autumn tests or Six Nations), for instance I would be very surprised if Wales will make any changes (injuries permitting) in their games against Aus, SA & NZ, they will however make changes against Georgia. It has however been reported that Eddie Jones may use the Southern Hemisphere template in this Autumns games and also the Six Nations. Perhaps this willingness to experiment is one of the reasons that World Cups have been on the whole dominated by the Southern Hemisphere, 2003 being the exception. Great article JD Kiwi, I thought the Lions test series was a cut above anything I’ve seen in the last few years. By the way I was at that Wales England game in Cardiff and can assure you every Wales fan knew what was going to happen once we saw Jon Davies had missed touch. Here’s to a great Autumn, Rob

    • I think part of the reason is that every game in the 6N is an all or nothing match. In the Rugby Championship there is always the chance to rectify problems and have another go if you lose one of your 1st games. In the 6N if you lose against a team you have to wait for the following year before settling the score. Nobody wants to lose but if you have a return leg then it becomes a bit easier on the psyche of both the losing team and their supporters. To win the 6N you HAVE to win away games and keep a clean slate at home, that leads to a tighter competition. It is also why nobody has ever won three successive outright victories in any of the tournaments incarnations.

      • Wow that’s an amazing statistic at the end there, although I reckon that it might get blown out of the water in April. Not even England under Sir Clive was able to really sustain their success over a period of time. What on earth happened in that 2002 game between France and England? It certainly adds to the anticipation of the competition, although the skill levels still aren’t the same as in the Rugby Championship.

        Statistically in the Rugby Championship a team also needs to win its home games and some away, but there’s certainly some truth in your argument.

  2. Thanks for that Rob.

    I think one reason for the blow outs in both Super Rugby and the Rugby Championship is that if you give a kiwi team room and they are on song, they have the attacking mindset, speed of movement, skills and option taking to tear you apart and inflate the scoreline. I’m not sure that anyone in the Six Nations have all of those attributes.

    On the other hand, if you can deny them that space and they aren’t quite executing those complex moves, you can negate them or even turn defence into attack. New Zealand like to play a fairly high risk style and there can be a fine line between roaring success and struggle.

    Regarding Eddie Jones, I think he’s said that his first two years were all about winning to build confidence but after that he would be building for Japan. The Argentina tour and a November when he only has one difficult game would appear to be an excellent time to introduce new players.

  3. A great reflection on the year’s rugby! I agree with the view that NZ’s high tempo, high risk style can very quickly turn against them. Surely the coaches are continuously drilling into them the need for level-headed decisions in execution. For some reason, however, it seems like they are prone to forcing the flicks, taps and passes in the heat of the moment. I wonder if the free spirit of NZ rugby is so ingrained that no amount of coaching can quell that impulse. I am sure of one thing, though, and that is that NZ dominance will not prevail at the next World Cup. England and Australia, perhaps even the Boks, are building and looming as real contenders.

    • Cheers Willem, I enjoy your analysis too.

      You may well be right, but it’s hard to be too sure this far out from the World Cup. There’s been a lot of experiments in personnel and tactics this year which I hope will pay massive dividends when it really matters.

    • I’ve heard Hansen speak about the risky moves, passes and then the mistakes that inevitably get made. He spoke of it last year & said that it’s part of their game, that it doesn’t always come off but you wouldn’t get the brilliant moments and all the tries without risk. Of course we’ve seen more errors this season because they’ve had so many new players and new combos- players that would barely know each other now playing together. So expect more mistakes initially, before it all gels together again.

  4. Great article & assessment of the rugby we’ve seen so far. It’s been a joy to watch for sure. I was literally just saying that those high scoring games just show that when the All Blacks play to their absolute best, nobody has a chance. But that doesn’t happen every time, it can’t possibly. They’ve had to bring in a few more new players due to injuries, but most were part of the plan, and I like what I’ve seen so far- even though it’s not always pretty! Look forward to reading more from you.

    • Thanks a lot April! Yes I have a couple of other ideas for articles, if I ever get the time to write them…

      I agree with both your comments. There’s nothing guaranteed in sport, but I’m not worried about a bit of short term pain if it makes us stronger in 2019. I trust this coaching group to get it right.

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