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.
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?
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.
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.