THERE WERE A pair of near misses, but ultimately the June Tests allowed the Southern Hemisphere nations to prove their continuing dominance in world rugby.
Australia, New Zealand and South Africa all whitewashed their European opponents in Test series over the last three weeks, comprehensively underlining their status as the top three countries on the IRB’s official rankings.
Ireland’s two wins in Argentina, as well as Scotland’s victory over the Pumas last weekend, did at least address the balance somewhat, but with Italy losing their Tests against Fiji and Samoa [as well as Japan], the Southern Hemisphere ran out 10-3 winners overall this month.
England were the only Northern Hemisphere side to beat one of the ‘big three’ last November [the 20-13 success over Australia], with South Africa and New Zealand both winning all their fixtures on the 2013 tours. The dominance is nothing new.
This month, England missed their chance to beat the Kiwis in the first of three Tests, losing 20-15 to a late Conrad Smith try, even though Steve Hansen’s men played as poorly as they have in a year.
On Saturday, Wales somehow lost the second Test against South Africa, despite leading 17-0 after 30 minutes and then 30-17 with a quarter of an hour remaining. Warren Gatland will rue his side’s defensive maul deficiencies, lack of composure and individual errors.
Again, the Springboks were far from their best in that Test, but they still had the resilience to score crucial tries late on in the game, ignoring the pressure of potential defeat to carry out their attacking structures with accuracy and incisiveness.
France were perhaps the weakest of the Six Nations sides on tour, with head coach Philippe Saint-André already having pointed a finger at the Top 14 as a reason for his players’ lethargy and inability to compete.
FFR president Pierre Camou says his faith in Saint-André remains steadfast, and the former Toulon boss looks certain to lead les Bleus into the 2015 World Cup.
The 47-year-old has suggested that his players came into this tour already fatigued by a lengthy European season, and there is certainly some sense in that argument. New Zealand, South Africa and Australia are at the mid-point of their 2014 campaigns, and are therefore relatively fresher mentally and physically.
In light of that, are these tours a truly accurate reflection of the ability of the European nations? Even against an Argentinian side shorn of several of their star players, there was a sense of lethargy to much of Ireland’s play too.
On the flip side of the coin, the likes of Australia and South Africa might argue that they came into their June Test series cold, not having played together since 2013. Is there a fair balance between the circumstances?
Whatever about timing and fatigue, the three best international teams have underlined their quality with a year and three months until the World Cup. Australia’s back play looks as sharp as ever, while improving players such as Will Skelton add promise up front.
In Willie le Roux, the Springboks have melded a decisive attacking element to their existing forward power, while New Zealand showed that their intelligence and ability to pick out opposition flaws is still unrivalled.
England and Ireland showed the most progress among the Six Nations sides in 2014, but even still, beating the big three at RWC2015 will require something special.
Have you been impressed by the Southern Hemisphere sides this month? What aspects of their play stood out as superior to their European opponents?
*Scotland face the ‘Boks this Saturday, the final chance for a Northern Hemisphere win against one of the big three this summer.