Has the north got what it takes?

WITH less than a year until the Rugby World Cup kicks off at Twickenham, the upcoming Autumn Internationals have been eagerly anticipated by all rugby fans.

Over the next few weeks, France, Ireland, Scotland, England, and Wales will test themselves against the teams from the southern hemisphere. The questions is: has the north got what it takes to bridge the ‘north v south gap’?

Autmn Ints Article A quick statistical analysis indicate that the gap is as wide as ever before. Since 2008, ninety-six games have been played between the ‘Big Three’ – New Zealand, Australia and South Africa – and the original Five Nations – France, Scotland, Ireland, Wales and England. Out of these, a mere thirteen matches were won by a northern hemisphere side and only two ended as a draw. It has been fifty-six months, twenty matches to be more specific, since Wales’s latest victory against either of the ‘Big Three’. Despite them being the most successful team in the Six Nations in this period they have failed to secure a win since they defeated the Wallabies in 2008. Ireland, on the other hand, have managed two wins and a draw, France three wins, and England four. Although a number of the losing matches were within losing bonus point territory, there can be no doubt about the overwhelming southern superiority.

England are definitely eager to put things straight after the New Zealand summer tour. On a good day they can beat anyone with world class players like Mike Brown, Billy Vunipola, and Mani Tuilagi. The next month, playing New Zealand, South Africa, Samoa, and Australia, will be crucial for Lancaster’s project ahead of next year’s ‘Group of Death’.

As reigning Six Nations Champions, Ireland will be full of confidence. Their epic performance against the All Blacks a year ago showed that they have what it takes to go all the way in the World Cup. Since then they have lost their talisman Brian O’Driscoll to retirement, and a great deal of the responsibility will lie with Jonathan Sexton’s intelligence and excellent kicking. Playing South Africa, Georgia, and Australia this month, it will be interesting to see what life after O’Driscoll looks like.

What about Wales then? Will they eventually secure a win against Australia, Fiji, New Zealand, or South Africa? By now they have an experienced side with an increasing number of players with 30+ tests to their name, of which the majority of them were part of the Lions Tour last year. With the Welsh regions struggling in Europe lately, and the on-going debates on WRU dual contracts at home, now would be a great time to end their southern hemisphere jinx.

Further north, Scotland are also struggling. They have a new coach calling the shots, Vern Cotter, and his main concern should be their ability, or rather the lack of it, to score tries. Only four tries were scored in this year’s Six Nations. Beyond the talent and speed of Stuart Hogg there is not much that makes me believe Scotland will pose a serious threat to an Argentinian side who have just secured their first win in Rugby Championship. Tonga will prove to be more than a handful as well.

That leaves us with Les Bleus. Following suit on French rugby traditions, their head coach is keeping up with a rather eccentric selection policy of leaving out in-form players for injury-prone replacements that have yet to perform on a consistently high level in this year’s Top 14. As usual who knows what the French can carry out? On the day, they can outplay anyone with their flair, raw skill, and fierce power. This summer they were hammered in Australia though, and I find it hard to believe they will do much better this time when they face the Wallabies at Stade de France on November 15th.

Nevertheless, it should be a great month for rugby fans.