Despite their humbling experience at the 2015 Rugby World Cup, it seems Northern Hemisphere teams have learnt nothing from the debacle.
Just four months ago, coaches and governing bodies in the Northern Hemisphere were rushing to embrace the Southern Hemisphere’s style of play after not one European side made it into the semifinals of the Rugby World Cup. However, in their first international action since the tournament ended, we have seen not one side has learnt anything from the experience.
The 2016 Six Nations should have been a clean slate in which coaches could show they had learnt from the experience, and were willing to adapt their game plan in order to go about challenging the current superpowers of international rugby. Instead we have seen teams revert to business as usual in the Six Nations as if nothing is wrong.
For all the promise of more expansive game plans, and a willingness to try new things, the Six Nations has been a boring slog fest with very little to suggest teams or coaches learnt a thing from their embarrassment at the World Cup. Whilst the miserable conditions have played some part in this, there has been little change even when conditions have been less of a factor.
The problem seems to be that coaches employ a win at all costs mentality when it comes to the Six Nations. Despite the fact that most teams would have been offered some leeway had they shown something different, the only coach to have shown a willingness to do something different is Guy Noves in France (and let’s face it, he didn’t have much choice in the matter).
This was the first Six Nations after a World Cup cycle, meaning it was the ideal opportunity to try something new, whether this be a different game plan, or new players with a view to creating something special for in four years time when the next World Cup comes around. Instead, we have seen the same tried and tested game plans which, whilst proving successful in the Six Nations, have so far failed to seriously worry the likes of New Zealand or Australia.
How can it be that after not one side from the Six Nations made it through to the World Cup semi’s, that coaches deem it acceptable to continue on in the same manner. Yes Ireland have had injuries and retirements, but surely their quarter final against Argentina proved they need to expand on their attacking approach. Meanwhilst Wales some insistent on continuing with ‘Warrenball’ whilst England continue to use two sixes as flankers.
Given that teams in the Northern Hemisphere have claimed victory over the All Blacks just three times since the 2003 Rugby World Cup (France in 2007 & 2009 and England in 2013), it’s increasingly obvious there is a huge chasm appearing. To put this in context, New Zealand have faced off against teams from the Six Nations 65 times during this period meaning their current win percentage is 95.4% over the last 13 years.
Even accounting for the fact we are talking about the All Blacks, it is genuinely shocking that teams from the Northern Hemisphere have failed to challenge them quite so badly over recent years. Frankly, if this statistic doesn’t give coaches in the Northern Hemisphere one giant boot up the arse then nothing will.
At present it seems fans of European rugby are destined to watch their teams continually fail to compete at World Cups. The problem being that whilst the Six Nations continues to stagnate, teams in the Southern Hemisphere will continue to innovate and widen the gap. Even more scary is the fact that there are currently three New Zealanders and one Australian coaching these sides, all of whom seem to have bought into the conservatism of European rugby.
Not only is the lack of ambition a concern from a competitiveness point of view, it hardly makes for enthralling viewing for fans. The final day of last year’s Six Nations has been lauded by almost every rugby fan around, however it looks like a return to this kind of action is unlikely. It is this kind of all out total rugby that gets fans excited about the tournament, but as is, many fans are being turned off the 2016 Six Nations due to the poor quality of the rugby on show.