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Tuesday, 6 November 2018

North v South - View from the South

**Blog written by @capricest**

View from the South 

The time has arrived where rugby’s big guns get to flex their muscles against their counterparts from the other side of the world. These match ups tend to be relatively few and far between and this tends to add to the mystique and with both sides believing their rugby is better, it makes for enough banter to keep everyone talking for the long rugby-less months in between. 

World rugby rankings (actually this is a subject all of its own for another day) being as fickle and hard to understand as they are, show that there is very little between the top 8 sides in the world, and right now the top 3 are jockeying for position like never before. We try to compare such things as who beat who and what happened last time, but in reality none of the measures can help. There are a number of reasons why this is so. 

The main ones in my opinion are-

Relative rugby seasons: 
The All Blacks, Wallabies and Springboks come to the Northern Hemisphere fresh off beating each other up in the annual hotly contested battle for Southern Hemisphere supremacy. These teams play each other year in year out several times and while it is always a big deal, there is no yardstick to compare with the teams up north. When teams come to the Southern Hemisphere it is usually at the beginning of our season and often there has been no international games for 6 months or more. This leads to experimentation and gnashing of teeth for the teams from the south depending on the relative strength of the touring team. The British and Irish Lions tours are the most anticipated match ups of them all. Four years between tours and covering the big 3 southern teams mean we have to wait 12 years for the next chance. World cups come around every four years and the emphasis from over a year out is always trying to peak at the right time. When push comes to shove rugby is played in winter so each Hemisphere will be at the opposite end of their seasons no matter what. 

World cup looms: 
This year leading up to the World Cup has added a new stop on the way north in the form of cup hosts Japan following on from last few years big forays into the USA. This is great for spreading the love of the game by the way. But it has meant we have had to dig deep into the depths of New Zealand provincial rugby to find players to bolster the squad for a very tough schedule. Locally and I suspect internationally media roll out cliches of supposedly cheapening the jersey by picking 8 new caps in the side to play Japan, 2 but the new men did a cracking job pulling on the black jersey for the first time. I predict a number of these lads will pull it on again quite soon. The men who went to the UK prior to the Japan game to prepare for the biggest fixture out there against the English at Twickenham followed by the stronger than ever Irish, will be feeling the pressure from those snapping at their heels and the public back in New Zealand who have come to expect excellence and the ridiculous winning percentage that goes with it. England and Ireland over the next two weeks will be a massive step up for the men in black and we could be boarding the long trip home after the Italy game with head scratching and a lot of work to do before we try to hold onto William (as we affectionately call the World Cup) 

Style of play: 
You only need to talk to expats on either side of the world to see that the professional and semi professional and indeed amateur games played at a provincial level are very different. The focus diverges, the rules tend to be interpreted more laterally and at a basic primal level our southern preference is for open, expansive play where kicking is seen to be the option of last resort. We all know history shows this does not win World Cups but you’ll never stop us trying and drop goals won’t likely be a weapon we will ever master. The lure of the European competitions and their seemingly endless pockets is strong for all who play the game we love and the quality of players in those leagues is mindblowing. This has good and bad consequences for both hemispheres player bases but probably won’t change the core style of rugby being played just yet anyway. 

I’m super excited to hopefully see rugby being played at it’s highest level between these heavyweights in the weeks to come....though due to nasty time zones it will be through bleary sleep deprived eyes. 

**Blog written by @capricest**

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