The Game They Play in Heaven (Part II)
I’ve been writing a column for NZ Rugby World since its debut in April 1997 as NZ Rugby Monthly. My two-page article was entitled “All’s not well in the North”.
I was bemoaning the moribund style of play in the Northern Hemisphere and suggesting a 10-point plan to get the game back on its feet, including:
1) The Unions must secure control of the players,
2) A meaningful, top-class Northern Club competition must be developed,
3) Unions need to limit the number of foreign players,
4) The Rugby season should be switched to the Northern Hemisphere Summer,
5) Italy should be admitted to the Five Nations,
6) NZ coaches should go across to lift standards.
1) Ireland led the way and it shows as they are ranked Two in the world today.
2) The Heineken Cup is a great tournament.
4) Rugby League got in ahead of us.
5) Done. Now we need promotion / relegation to encourage Georgia, Germany, Spain, Russia and Portugal.
6) Done. Henry, Hansen, Schmidt, Cotter etc etc etc.
(I also suggested – Inga Tuigamala’s two sons should be given English passports to lift England’s 2015 RWC prospect, Will Carling should marry Jonah / Christian Cullen’s sister and father two pacey Backs – to take care of RWC 2019, Steinlager should sponsor England – mother’s milk to great Rugby players, and all Northern Hemisphere refs should spend two years in NZ to understand ruck/maul/tackle laws.)
None of these radical ideas took hold (!!!), but other initiatives – mainly tv money driven – have come to pass and we are looking at a world in 2019 where England, Ireland and Wales are ranked ahead of all Southern Hemisphere nations (except New Zealand of course).
How has this come about?
1) Nearly all the top coaches are from the Southern Hemisphere – Eddie Jones, Joe Schmidt, John Mitchell, Warren Gatland, Vern Cotter, Scott Johnson etc.
2) All Northern teams have Southern Hemisphere players qualified by residence – Kiwis, South Africans, Aussies, Samoans, Tongans and Fijians abound … despite the incessant, historical (hysterical ?) whining of Stephen Jones about our Island players.
3) Ex All Blacks have gone across at the end of their careers and raised standards of game management, handling skills and mental toughness across the board.
4) England has woken up – and is finally adding some creativity to its muscular Forward power. Owen Farrell at 10 is a warrior, May, Daly and Nowell / Watson are an All Black-like Back 3 – and Itoje and Sinckler are fast becoming world-class.
5) Wales has invested in youth, pace and belief. Ireland has Joe Schmidt, Andy Farrell, Johnny Sexton and Conor Murray – and Scotland has given the reins to Gregor Townsend, who thinks different.
So, we have a world game again – and a Rugby World Cup to be played on neutral territory.
I haven’t been as excited as this in the 22 years I’ve been writing about our Beautiful Game.