World Cup Watch: Northern Teams Aim to Rewrite Rugby History in France

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That's the view of British rugby writer Stephen Jones, writing in the Rugby World magazine's World Cup preview issue.

Jones said it was staggering that northern hemisphere sides, with their superior player resources and significant monetary input into their campaigns, had been unable to prevent southern sides, New Zealand and South Africa (three each) and Australia (two), from taking off the golden prize.

And even when England did win in 2003, it was only through a Jonny Wilkinson dropped goal seconds before the end of extra time.

But despite where rugby stands in England, France, Ireland, Wales and Scotland, all their advantages accounted for so little.

Jones said, "So we are tempted to ask ourselves this question: if there is no northern winner in France 2023, then will there ever be one? Is it now or never?"

Ireland's series win in New Zealand, France's win at the end of 2021 and its form in taking out a Six Nations Grand Slam suggested now there was a World Cup chance.


Jones said with the 2027 World Cup in Australia and 2031 in the USA, European sides might have to wait until 2035 to claim the trophy again.

"It gives you pause for considerable thought. Statistics usually leave me cold in rugby, but the statistics regarding the World Cup winners cannot and do not lie. They suggest strongly that, in general, rugby is superior in New Zealand and South Africa and, just occasionally, in Australia to anything we can serve up."

In assessing why that should be the case, Jones said there was a tactical and technical simplicity in South Africa and New Zealand, a different way of playing in each country that pervaded the game in their countries from youngsters to their Test sides.

"The styles are grooved in while it seems that Euro teams, possibly France apart, are trying something new every season.

"Under Eddie Jones, no one appeared to have a clue what style England were playing."

New Zealand didn't have to contend with competing sports, while South Africa had competition from football. Still, because of its population, there were enough developing players to sustain the Boks for years.

"And in those two countries, every new coach who comes in wastes no time sorting out the style. It will be the same style as the coach before, and the one before him. It is not just playing numbers alone that is an advantage but the side of the sports in their own environment; better for TV deals.

"As for the competition between the two, I don't think I have covered anything bigger – the 2003 final apart – than the 1996 series between South Africa and New Zealand in South Africa. Just massive stuff, on which it seemed the mental balance of the countries seemed to rest."

Jones said New Zealand also seemed to have some innate advantages.

"They appear to be way better in their decision-making on the hoof, they appear to have a simpler grasp of rugby, and an ability to change during matches – nothing radical – to suit the state of the game and the opposition. In general, when New Zealand haven't won the tournament, it has been because their occasional fluctuations in forward power have hampered them."

Another observation was that New Zealand and South African international-standard athletes gravitated toward rugby. He also said the northern sides played in more bloated seasons with big games and trophies, leaving them 'more knackered and more injured.'

Rugby also fought to stay in second place among the spectator sports of the north.

"But again, these are theories that can't be proven, though those of us who have been to the southern nations scores of times tend to get an inkling. It's up to France and the home unions to be as driven, ferocious and single-minded as their southern counterparts."

Jones felt France was the north's best chance to win while Ireland's poor World Cup record was a hindrance, especially when one of Ireland, France or New Zealand was not going to get past the quarterfinals due to the structure of the draw.


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