The home nations touring anywhere in the Southern Hemisphere is generally synonymous with defeat, and in this day and age the notion is more prevalent than ever.
England, Ireland and Wales prepare to begin their tours this weekend against Australia, South Africa and New Zealand respectively, and when you look at the statistics it’s understandable that their chances of a series win have already been written off before a ball has even been touched. Let the statistics speak for themselves:
Head to head in Australia: Matches played – 17, England wins – 3, Australia wins – 14
Last win in Australia: Sydney 19th June 2010; Won 21-20
Ladbroke’s favourite for the series: Australia at 8/15
The statistics don’t scream optimism if you’re an English rugby fan, but when you consider that the three wins have come in the last seven matches played in Australia there is hope. The memories of the World Cup defeat will have been put behind them, and with Eddie Jones’s direct approach and knowledge of Australian rugby they have a great chance.
Head to head in South Africa: Matches played – 6, Ireland wins – 0, South Africa wins – 6
Last win in South Africa: Yet to win
Ladbroke’s favourite for the series: South Africa at 1/14
One would find it hard to believe that Ireland are going to get any joy from this month’s tour of South Africa; they’ve been plagued by injuries and having never one it seems like an insurmountable task. Solace can be taken in the fact, however, that Ireland have won four of their last six meetings with the Springboks so they know they’re capable of getting a result.
Head to head in New Zealand: Matches played – 7, Wales wins – 0, New Zealand wins – 7
Last win in New Zealand: Yet to win
Ladbroke’s favourite for the series: New Zealand at 1/150
Unfortunately for Wales, and as much I’d like them to do well, I think their chances are extremely slim of coming away with a match win, let alone the series. The squad is strong and the quality is there but they are out of sorts at the moment and New Zealand are coming off the back of a World Cup win and host an abundance of talent. A bridge too far for Gatland’s men.
- Possess a clinical edge – Every time England, Wales or Ireland comes close to taking a Southern Hemisphere scalp, they falter at the last hurdle. There needs to be a conscious effort to develop a mind-set that knows how and when to score points when opportunities arise. If they don’t turn pressure into points the chances of success are very limited.
- Retain possession – Similar to the previous point, the Northern Hemisphere sides are notorious for not keeping hold of the ball for long enough periods of time to convert it into points. New Zealand in particular are masters at keeping the scoreboard ticking over, and unless you can counter that with your own points the game very quickly gets beyond your control.
- Utilise your strengths – In England’s case they have to focus on their forward pack and power up front. Australia have been brittle in these areas in recent times and it’s somewhere England can be very successful. Ireland have become such a tactically oriented team and it worked for them last time they played South Africa so they must ensure it’s used during this series to make the match suit their style. Wales have a back line and attacking prowess to match most in world rugby and they must use it to its full effect against the All Blacks; we’ve seen it before, when New Zealand are on the back foot they lose confidence and can be beaten.
- Believe you can win – The statistics strongly suggest that England, Wales and Ireland have very little chance of returning home with a series win in the Southern Hemisphere, but the most important thing is they go there truly believing it’s possible. If you’ve psyched yourself out before the match has even begun it makes the task considerably tougher. The quality is there for all the teams to beat their Southern Hemisphere counterparts; they just need to adopt a focused and confident approach.
- Let your confidence drop – It’s a regular occurrence that happens too often; the home nations concede points relatively early on, and as a small lead begins to build they lose their confidence. The game of rugby is war of attrition, not a 100m sprint, so the coaches and captains need to make sure that if they concede there is enough self-assurance within the team that they can close the gap.
- Become complacent – As has been said several times already, Northern Hemisphere sides beating Southern Hemisphere sides isn’t something that comes around that often, and if the match is there to be won don’t throw it away.
- Show too much respect – Respect for the opposition must always be shown, that is a given, but by giving the opposition too much credit there’s a chance you can elevate them to another level and damage your performance. The respect from the Southern Hemisphere sides towards the home nations exists, but I can guarantee it is not comparable to the respect shown for them. A real ruthlessness must be implemented.
The three games promise to provide a lot of entertainment, I’m sure they will, but what I’m most hopeful about is that a genuine contest plays out in all of them. The matches will prove to be a great opportunity for all six countries to showcase their talent, both new and old, and to progress further as individuals and teams.