Rugby World Cup highlights sport’s hemisphere divide
With the sheer quality at coach Steve Hansen’s disposal, few will have been overly surprised when New Zealand retained their Rugby World Cup crown in a high-octane final against Australia last weekend.
The All Blacks have consistently proven themselves as the best team in the world over the last four years, with the maturity and dynamism on show at the tournament hammering home the point.
For Northern Hemisphere nations, seeing the Kiwis return home with the William Webb Ellis trophy can be accepted to some degree due to New Zealand’s pedigree.
What will be a real concern however is the dominance of the Southern Hemisphere countries over their European rivals.
Historically the likes of England and France, in particular, have had the quality to go toe-to-toe with anyone in the world, while Ireland and Wales have shown of late that on their day they can beat almost anyone.
However, when the chips were down and it counted most, the Northern Hemisphere’s best simply could not deal with the pressure or deliver against the major nations south of the Equator.
Hosts England were the biggest disappointment in being eliminated at the group stage, with the manner of their definitive defeat to Australia sending reverberations through Twickenham.
France have been a bogey team for New Zealand in previous World Cups, but the current transitional side were blown away by the eventual winners this time round.
Ireland could not live with the physicality and penetration of an exciting Argentina outfit, spurning their opportunity to make the last four in defeat to the Pumas.
Wales had chances to oust South Africa but quality told in a close match, as Fourie de Preez’s moment of improvisation decided the encounter.
It was Scotland, who no-one had high hopes for, that came closest to getting one over on a major Southern Hemisphere nation.
Vern Cotter’s men were within minutes of beating Australia in the quarter-finals, but indiscipline and a questionable piece of officiating saved the Wallabies’ blushes.
Despite Scotland giving as good as they got against a complacent opponent, Australia delivered under pressure.
Ironically, it was Japan that flew the flag proudest for the Northern Hemisphere in their pulsating shock victory over the Springboks.
With the competition played in the United Kingdom, there was an expectation that a Home Nation or two would be in the running come the business end.
However, an all-Southern Hemisphere line-up in the semi-finals displays the gulf in the level of quality of North and South.
Club and coaching structures can be examined in searching for an answer to the growing trend, but the collective mentalities of the team must also be highlighted.
In close games, it was always the big four Southern Hemisphere countries, not the sides closer to home, that were accurate, composed, clinical and as a result successful.
With an injection of coaches from New Zealand and Australia entering the British, Irish and French games, forging a tougher mindset will be the major challenge if the established order is to be disrupted.