It feels counterintuitive to be talking about a Southern Hemisphere revival, given that all four of the Rugby Championship nations made the semi-finals of the 2015 Rugby World Cup. Yet, all the same, South Africa, Australia and Argentina all lost ground to England, Wales and Ireland over the last four year cycle, only to re-emerge as major players once more this year.
The All Blacks remain bookies favourites to win the World Cup, but they are no longer as indomitable as they once were. South Africa would be this writers pick, although England also look dangerous, which is incredible given where they were just 18 months ago under Allister Coetzee, under whom they enjoyed just a 44% win rate.
Likewise, Australia, derided as a mess after the Izzy Folau debacle, have shown, in beating the All Blacks, that they can put together a performance to rival the best.
Which is why it is so dispiriting to look at the list of players deserting southern hemisphere after the World Cup, mainly for huge contracts in France, England and Japan.
There is almost a first fifteen of top quality internationals departing Australia. Amongst them: Will Genia, Samu Kerevi, Adam Coleman, Quade Cooper, Bernard Foley, Sekope Kepu, Christian Leali’fano, Nick Phipps and David Pocock. For anyone with any interest in preserving the quality of Super Rugby, this is a travesty. It also shows the shocking financial imbalance between the hemispheres.
This list of top quality talent departing New Zealand is equally long, and equally star studded. Perhaps the standout names are Ben Smith, Kieran Read, Brodie Retallick, Ryan Crotty, Owen Franks and Sam Whitelock – all stalwarts of New Zealand rugby.
Below that rarefied tier of legends is a secondary group of younger players, including Jackson Hemopo, Luke Whitelock, Nehe Milner-Skudder, Jordan Taufua, Matt Proctor, Waisaki Naholo, Jeffrey Toomaga-Allen and Melani Nanai (a Samoan but also central figure in the Blues backline over the last few years.)
As a result of the recent relaxing of the Springboks oversees players policy, eight out of current South African World Cup squad play abroad. That already large figure is set to be bolster, with Eben Etzebeth, Malcom Marx, Kwagga Smith and Handre Pollard all following the well-trodden path north.
Amongst the Pumas squad, the impressive Pablo Matera will be playing in France next year, whilst Tomas Lavinini, Santiago Garcia Botta and Martin Landajo are off to England.
This gutting of southern hemisphere talent is unhealthy. Not only does it devalue Super Rugby, depriving it of many of its most popular stars, but the influx of big money marque signings denies locally bred young talent, in places like France and England, first team opportunities.
North of the equator the rugby world is becoming bloated with expensive talent and is leading to a game dedicated only to the pursuit of money and success, with no moral foundations.
Look at the strange situation between Toulon owner Moura Boudjellal and former All Black Julian Savea, his star signing last season. In a public interview Boudjellal said, “I’m going to ask for a DNA test. It is not Savea that we recreated but ‘Savéapas’. They had to change it on the plane. If I were him, I would apologize, and I would go home. When we reach this level of play, we must apologize and leave. I told him he was released, and he was no longer welcome in Toulon!”
Is this callous disrespect, with Toulon’s owner treating a player like a money grabbing mercenary, really where we want the game going?
Written by Joe Ronan