With only teams from the Southern Hemisphere left in the Rugby World Cup, we look at what teams in the Northern Hemisphere can learn…
1.Tries win games
There are exceptions to every rule, and obviously there are plenty of instances of teams winning courtesy of penalties, however what we have seen during the World Cup is that scoring tries is the surest method of claiming victory. This is something the Southern Hemisphere teams have focussed on instead of always opting to kick at the posts.
You can see this in the way they set up to play and the way they use the set piece. Whilst NH sides still see a scrum as an opportunity to win a penalty, teams from the SH are seeing it more and more as a method of quickly restarting the game so they can exploit a weakness in their opponent’s defensive line whilst the forwards are tied in at the scrum or maul.
2.Win the breakdown and you’re halfway there
Australia’s decision to play with two opensides during most of their key games goes to show how much emphasis they place on this key aspect of the game. Instead of including big ball carriers in the back row, they went with Hooper and Pocock who continually won crucial turnovers and slowed down opposition ball.
The fact is, you can’t win a game without getting your hands on the ball, so if you’re constantly being turned over you’re going to have a tough time of it. Look back to the Australia vs England game to see how effective the Wallabies were at winning turnovers and we all know how that game ended up.
3.The whole team needs to be comfortable handling the ball
The All Blacks are the greatest proponents of this, however you only have to look to Argentina to see how comfortable most of their forwards are playing the ball through their hands. Equally, look to Duane Vermeulen’s offload for Fourie du Preez try against Wales to see how vital these skills are across the whole team.
This isn’t to say forwards in the Northern Hemisphere are simply just bosh merchants, but their skills certainly aren’t comparable. Whereas forwards seamlessly integrate into the All Blacks backline, we’ve seen on more than one occasion, Northern Hemisphere forwards getting in the way of backs moves and causing them to come to an immediate halt.
4.Select players for what they can do, not what they can’t
The likes of Nehe Milner-Skudder and Jesse Kriel both had very little international game time before the Rugby World Cup, yet where both thrown into action from the word go. They both obviously had their limitations, primarily through a lack of experience, but were trusted to play to their strengths.
This faith has been paid back and then some as both players have played a key role in helping their respective sides to the Rugby World Cup semi finals. In contrast, you look at a side like England who have selected players purely with the intention of stopping the opposition rather than looking to go out and win the game.
5.The dark arts
Look, it may not be right, but we all know it goes on. Whether it’s a hand in the ruck, a dropped bing in the scrum or a push off the ball, players are always stretching the laws to their absolute limits. It just seems that the Southern Hemisphere teams are more willing to push certain laws, and obviously come out better for it.
Part of this is down to their ability to read the referee and respond accordingly, but equally their experienced heads in particular appear far more willing to push their luck. This isn’t saying NH sides don’t try to get away with things too, they just don’t seem quite as savvy as the SH counterparts.
We seem to go through continuous cycles of SH sides innovating and finding new ways to play the game, whilst waiting for NH sides to catch up. It is quite simply baffling that NH continually seem to fall behind their SH counterparts when it comes to finding new ways to adapt and play the game.
The one occasion when a NH side got ahead by utilising new training techniques, they went on to win the World Cup (England 03). Whilst we have seen the likes of Ireland bringing new things to the table, even they seem to struggle to adapt to changes in the game, or even lead the way when it comes to the big games.
7.Getting it right from the very beginning
The biggest problem occurs at the grassroots of the game where often in the NH kids are selected based on their physical assets rather than ability. Contrast that to New Zealand where they select players based on size rather than age to ensure that their kids are given the chance to develop without being barrelled over by those who had an early growth spurt.
The simple truth is that teams in the NH need to focus on going back to basics and sorting out their age grade sides with a long-term view to the future. By adapting here, it will have a knock on effect with coaches who have to learn to get their sides playing in a way that doesn’t just simply involve giving the ball to the big lad and letting him run it up.