Do North and South players transfer well to opposite hemispheres?
The migration of southern hemisphere players to northern hemisphere leagues has been increasingly common in the last few years.
Fanzone article written by “nickoldschool", originally published on The Roar Rugby. Submit your own Fanzone article to The Roar for potential publication on AllBlacks.com
Rare southern hemisphere international players who have not had an overseas stint during their rugby career.
The reasons for this trend have been discussed ad nausea: lucrative contracts, a different lifestyle, a unique cultural experience, and now the perspective of playing one of the most attractive competitions on the planet, the Heineken Cup.
Let’s be honest, they are all very valid reasons. Who wouldn’t want to live and play in London, South France, Tokyo or Cardiff for a while, eat croissants and ‘pains au chocolat’ or sip a London Pride (pint thereof) with the locals and get very well paid for that?
Time to look at the reverse situation: northern hemisphere players coming ‘down under’ to enjoy our lifestyle and rugby. Yes, a rare sight indeed. Why?
We all know that the ARU, NZRU and SARU have often been accused of being ‘over-protective’ when it comes to foreign import in their Super 15 franchises, and rightly so. Fair enough.
Thing is, results prove one thing: it worked. Whether we want it or not, the professional era has been dominated by the three Southern Hemisphere superpowers and their policies are certainly not foreign to that. Well done.
However, the ‘real’ reasons why French, English, Irish or Georgian players are not coming to play Super Rugby might be elsewhere: their rugby abilities and adaptability to the rugby played here. To be blunt, we don’t want them here as they aren’t good enough, next.
Need an example? I’ll give you two. Danny Cipriani and Freddy Michalak.
Both of them are on their way back to Europe after this year’s Super 15 (Sale and Toulon respectively) and had hoped their last Super Rugby season would be an enjoyable and successful one.
It’s fair to say it has not gone as planned so far; Cipriani’s defence has again been exposed on many occasions this year while his, until now undeniable, attacking prowess has been seriously questioned lately. Worse, there is now an impact on other players as they have lost confidence in his abilities to defend.
James O’Connor and the others in the back-line have now started to anticipate a possible or even probable missed-tackle, or even absence of tackle sometimes, from Cipriani, leaving their direct opponent unmarked.
And the stats don’t lie: O’Connor’s missed-tackle ratio has substantially increased since joining the Rebels ( O’Connor has already missed more tackles in 2012 (18) than he did all season last year, 17). Not the kind of influence you expect from a marquee-player.
How about Michalak? The Frenchman started the season at n9 alongside Pat Lambie, had a few mediocre games and was replaced by Charl McLeod who never looked back since. Michalak is now playing the last 10-15 minutes off the bench, with no much success either.
His flair, which worked at Currie Cup level, isn’t doing anything in super rugby and his teammates often misread his intentions. His passing game, which is still sharp and clean, rarely finds the right player, the one likely to go all the way to the try-line.
And to not be able to ‘read’ the game for a scrum-half just means one thing: you don’t belong here.
It’s fair to say that he has shown commitment in defence and is definitely not as tackle-shy as his English counterpart in Melbourne. Yet, not really an ideal farewell to finish your South African career on the bench for a guy who said he has loved playing for the Sharks (so much that he came back for more after a first stint in 2008).
So what went wrong? Is it the more laid-back attitude and lifestyle in the south that makes it hard to commit in defence and play hard? Or the relative absence of pressure from supporters in Melbourne and Durban? Might be simpler than that.
Although both of them can be brilliant at times and still ‘have the rugby’ to throw a fantastic blind-pass or a sharp, flat one that will expose opponents’ defence, they might not have the right level for Super Rugby after all. Both have been given a chance, a couple of years to adapt and offer the type of rugby they were signed for. And they failed to deliver.
No northern hemisphere bashing here; our players don’t always perform up-north either. Ask Toulon supporters what they think of Jerry Collins or Parisians what Radike Samo brought to the club. For one Rocky Elsom, Brock James or Joe van Niekerk, you have many Collins, Samo etc…
The number of ‘European’ cattle playing in Australia, South Africa and New Zealand (who remembers French international prop Christian Califano’s stint at the Blues in 2002?) being scarce, it’s hard to make a valid opinion on what could really bring a top northern hemisphere player to a Super Rugby franchise.
One thing is certainm none of them has been a stand-out while playing our competition so far.
The Cipriani and Michalak experience having been a lukewarm success at best, it may take some time before we see the Roberts, Flood or Parra on our shores.