It seems that this world cup is not going according to plan for me or most of the southern hemisphere teams. While I sat in a mountain hut, 1200 metres up the side of a Swiss Alpine valley and waited for the fog to lift, I contemplated the weekend fixtures and rued the fact that the Southern hemisphere had the semi finals as well as the final all sewn up. Taking into consideration the form shown in the pool games I could see no way past for France or England , the plucky Fijians or the Scots. I finished the last of the hot chocolate, the weather cleared from the mountain and I headed out for a jaunt.
Being without a TV on Rugby World Cup Quarter Finals weekend was a serious oversight on my behalf but the chance to go into the mountains for a weekend before the snow arrived had to be taken. I set the recorder on Friday morning safe in the knowledge that the quarter finals would play out as everyone predicted. Much like my overblown confidence ahead of the Ireland v. Georgia game I somehow fooled myself into believing the form teams would march unerringly on towards the Webb Ellis.
En route to the glacier I tried to block out the burning lungs and tired legs and figure out where it had gone wrong for northern hemisphere rugby versus our southern opponents. Talk of the Six Nations becoming soft and predictable was discarded straight away. Italy’s progression over the last few years has been testament to the keenly contested nature of the tournament, the chance for teams to improve with regular competition against well drilled opposition and the chance to measure yourself against the “big boys” of northern hemisphere rugby. Having six teams in the tournament makes it a very competitive few weeks of rugby against contrasting styles and forms (albeit, all northern hemisphere teams).
I stopped along the path to crack open the sandwiches and take stock of the scenic surroundings as well as the fact that population statistics, rugby playing statistics and rugby teaching could also not be held to blame. Australia has a whole (if slightly empty) continent to pick it’s team from and it’s even been known to pilfer the odd player from the pacific islands. South Africa and Argentina also have large land masses and populations to cherry pick the best. The exception down south I suppose has to be the All Blacks and this is where the theory breaks down. They have a population similar to Ireland but the status of and fervour for rugby are streets ahead. Similarly, France and England have huge pools of players to choose from and so this can’t be considered.
The final option and one bandied about by our own Eddie O’Sullivan is the timing of the seasons in the two halves of the globe. The northern hemisphere sides go into the world cup after their summer/autumn breaks whereas the southern nations are half way through their season. This puts the northern hemipshere at a disadvantage because the teams aren’t “battle hardened” after the summer break (this may be true but could be easily rectified by sending your first choice team to Argentina for the autumn series instead of keeping them on the couch!). Of course the opposite could be argued that the teams are fresh and in top physical order going into the tournament. This is a difficult problem to rectify as to find a time in the year when both hemispheres are equally prepared is nigh on impossible. Likewise this can’t be used as an excuse as the timing of the tournament was known for four years.
So, after the walk and no closer to understanding why the north lags behind the south I come home to find that France and England (and Scotland weren’t far away) have gone through to the semis!
Please disregard the previous four paragraphs of nonsensical dithering!