While Argentina and Australia have been torrid, New Zealand hold a 50% win record for the first time in years, England are treating controversially beating a French C team as a World Cup final and the general state of northern-hemisphere rugby appears dire at best. Some perspective on the state of world rugby please, asks JAMES DALTON.
New Zealand finish the year with the Bledisloe Cup and the Tri-Nations in hand, but with the other ‘achievements’ of having lost to Argentina for the first time in history, drawn with Australia and lost to them, too, and ended the year on a 50% win ratio – having won three, lost two and drawn one. The All Blacks under Ian Foster are not the All Blacks of the past decade, this much is evident. As I said previously, the metric for success was the All Blacks, yet they no longer set the standard.
Who does then?
Certainly not England, who emerged as Six Nations victors against a northern-hemisphere collective whose quality has declined, and robbed France of an Autumn Nations Cup win in extra time.
While France appears the one team in world rugby at the moment to be building something of quality and consistency, under Fabian Galthie, England’s historic competition of Wales and Ireland have fallen drastically from where they were. Ireland, who hit No 1 in the world not too long ago, have dropped to fifth in the World Rankings, while Wales without Gatland are a shell of the side that proved to be the Springboks’ greatest challenge on their road to World Cup victory in 2019.
The Autumn Nations Cup final did even more to expose the quality (or lack thereof?) of an England side that has essentially been clubbing seals this year. With 813 caps among the England players (their most experienced side of all time), it took a try that should not have been a try (England clearly knocking the ball on en route to the tryline) and an extra-time penalty to win in sudden death against a French side with 68 caps in total between their players.
‘We wouldn’t have won that game 12 months ago, we’d have lost it. That’s a good learning for us,’ said Eddie Jones commenting on the fight England showed to come back and win 22-19.
But what does that say about the state of English rugby, if your progression a year on from getting thumped 32-12 in a World Cup final is stealing a victory from a French team without 25 of their best players?
England, by the nature of their results, are considered the best team in the world this year that has played rugby (the Springboks still maintain the No 1 spot in the rankings), and sitting at third just behind them are an All Blacks side beaten by and drawing with a no-name brand, young Australian side under new coaching and lost for the first time ever to Argentina, who drew twice with that same Australian side.
In 2020, as bizarre a year as it has been, no side that can lay claim to being world beaters have emerged, and the Springboks in 2021 are perfectly positioned to defend their title as such and beat the British & Irish Lions.
Photo: Ian Walton/AP