By Rugby World reader, Ken FitzGerald
As I sit here on this tenth night of Movember stroking the handles on my glorious retro ‘tash (hey it’s all for a good cause!) I can’t help but wonder what might have been for Wales and England on the opening weekend of the by now familiar November test series. Predictably both Wales and England came close to their respective Southern Hemisphere opponents. Depressingly from a northern hemisphere point of view, an under strength New Zealand and a young misfiring Wallaby side both still proved too much for European opposition. Why? Is the coaching really that better in Australia and New Zealand? Are males born in the SANZAR countries genetically predisposed to make better rugby players? In six World cups and 14 years of professionalism only once has a side from north of Cairns won the Webb Ellis Trophy.
I watched that final in a bar in San Francisco during a twelve month self imposed exile in California. On that night in November 2003 I witnessed something I had not seen before. In a pub called the Chieftain on Taylor and 5th in that magnificent city I looked on in awe as I watched Irish, French, Scottish and English supporters all cheer as Johnny Wilkinson dropped that goal to break Australian hearts and to claim the William Webb Ellis trophy for a truly deserving England side that had beaten everybody everywhere. In a word they were awesome.
European rugby supporters had become sick of the strangle hold on the game from the Tri nations. That night it was broken, albeit temporarily. It was magnificent. Finally a European side had beaten southern hemisphere opposition in such dramatic fashion in the final of the world cup, and in their own back yard. It meant for the next four seasons in the six nations the other five countries got to play the World Champions. For Ireland it made victory in Twickenham even more special in February 2004 and for Wales in the Millennium stadium in 2005. England went through a rebuilding phase after RWC 2003 similar to the one they are in now and certainly Wales and Ireland both have made huge improvements in recent years, two grand slams in three seasons for Wales, three Heineken Cups a grand slam and a Churchill cup for Ireland. But that’s all at a European level. Let’s not forget a magnificent Lions series during the summer that ended in narrow defeat for the tourists. I often feel the answer to the above why? (As in why do we keep loosing to the Tri Nations teams) lies more in the psychology of belief. Fifteen guys in black making funny faces still instill fear in northern opposition and Australia keep arriving at Twickenham and walking away with the Cook cup. Can it be as we get better so to do they? Is there a gap in skill level we simply cannot bridge? I don’t believe this is the case. But there certainly seems to be a gulf between the two hemispheres in terms of belief. So where does leave us for RWC 2011? At the moment too early to say, but early signs are worrying. After this first weekend of Rugby in the month of the moustache there’s certainly a lot to ponder for Messrs Johnson and Gatland. Roll on the weekend.
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P.s I believe Ireland will defeat The Wallabies in Croke Park on Sunday in a cataclysmic tussle. Declan Kidney appears to have an Alchemists touch at the moment.