With the start of the new Super Rugby season, we find ourselves embroiled in the annual argument of north versus south.
In one corner we have the fast, open game full of tricks, flicks, offloads and tries. In the other, a more turgid affair littered with errors and re-set scrums played out on stodgy quagmires.
Or so they’d have you believe.
It’s a lazy cliché trotted out by those south of the equator who seem to think the north is inhabited by philistines, desperately harking back to the ball up the jumper era.
Let’s get something straight; South African and Australian club rugby is distinctly average, in the main, while the Kiwi sides are playing a brand of rugby more akin to rugby league but without the six-tackle rule.
The northern hemisphere is by no-means perfect, but it’s not quite on the defibrillator just yet, and this weekend’s Six Nations was the perfect example of that.
Attacking, open play is being complimented by solid forward work, strong set piece and a good battle on the floor.
One of the issues we face however, is always thinking the grass is greener on the other side, particularly when it comes to New Zealand rugby.
We are seeing the employment of width, the flicks, and incisive running lines in the north – just maybe not at the same regularity.
Just @Rieko_Ioane, Matt Duffie, and @SonnyBWilliams doing their best Sonny Bill Williams impressions... It's raining offloads in #HIGvBLU, live on SS Action now. 24-31 with half an hour left to play. #SuperRugby pic.twitter.com/yjSclwWXox— Sky Sports Rugby (@SkySportsRugby) February 23, 2018
Here is a crazy thought though – traditional rugby union can be wildly entertaining and can be the downfall of the southern hemisphere – we are already seeing it with Australia.
Competitive scrummaging, mauling, and dogged work on the ground has always been the cornerstone of the game – and something that appears to be less and less important in the south.
And this is where the north can steal a march – by excelling in these elements, coupled with the development of a more expansive style there is potential to surpass those who only want to play highlight reel rugby.
Getting left behind? Far from it.
England playmaker Owen Farrell could be in further trouble after a video emerged of the Saracens star shoving Scotland backrower Ryan Wilson leading to the pre-match bust up that marred the Six Nations clash between the two nations at Murrayfield on Saturday.
The footage, which has been posted on Youtube, shows both teams leaving the field simultaneously after their pre-game warm-up.
As they walk-up the tunnel Wilson appears to be talking to England fly-half George Ford.
Farrell then appears running quickly in the background. He pushes one Scottish player out of the way before shoving Wilson away from Ford.
Scottish prop Simon Berghan is then seen joining the skirmish which then escalated involving more players from both sides.
It’s impossible to decipher what Wilson is saying to Ford but according to distinguished English rugby scribe Mick Cleary writing in The Daily Telegraph “Farrell was coming to his team-mate’s defence.”
In a separate development last night, Wilson has been cited for allegedly making contact with the eye of England No8 Nathan Hughes and will face a disciplinary hearing.
This looks like a tough call on Wilson who was being pinned to the ground at the time by Hughes and may have just been defending himself.
England scrum-half Danny Care said afterwards that the flare-up between Farrell and Wilson had “fired up the boys even more”, although that was hard to see in England’s tame first half performance.
The Six Nations committee has written to both the Rugby Football Union and the Scottish Rugby Union, requesting clarification on what happened but both sides for now are staying tight-lipped.
Cleary, who is widely respected in the England camp, goes on to say: “The RFU management team will be reviewing the situation after taking eyewitness accounts.
“It was believed in the aftermath that Farrell had been provoked, but this new evidence suggests that he was protecting his team-mate.”
The skirmish may lead to a review on protocols for teams entering and leaving the field during the warm-up period.
Meanwhile England are looking to add some much needed spark with fit-again Wasps wing Elliot Daly and Harlequins tighthead Kyle Sinckler, both Lions last year in New Zealand, recalled to the 27-man squad to prepare to face France in Paris on Saturday March 10.
We’re over halfway through the Six Nations, and Ireland look in pole position to seal another Six Nations title after their victory over Wales at the weekend.
As all the coaches go back to camp for a one week break, it gives them the chance to reflect on the campaign so far and what they need to do to finish the campaign on a positive note.
With two matches remaining, we look at what each nation needs to do to consider the championship a positive one.
Ireland: Winning the Grand Slam will be the ultimate goal for Joe Schmidt’s side as they prepare for their final two matches against Scotland and England.
Although cutting down the Red Rose at Twickenham will provide a thorny issue, the Men in Green look poised to secure a third Six Nations title under Schmidt.
Strong carries, excellent work at the breakdown, keeping the penalty count low and putting the defending team under pressure will also keep the management content when they review the campaign – especially with a trophy on the table.
England: For Eddie Jones, the defeat to Scotland will be a significant regret when he dissects the good and bad points from the campaign.
But in order to finish with a flourish, England need to speed up the breakdown and attain a level of dominance up front.
They were destroyed against the Scots and this proved further evidence that the back-row issues have not been resolved.
Courtney Lawes, Chris Robshaw and Nathan Hughes were simply played off the park in Murrayfield. Sam Underhill needs to start.
Wales: Despite defeats to Ireland and England, it’s been a positive campaign so far for the Dragons – with defeats coming by a combined margin of 16 points.
Blooding youngsters like Elliot Dee and Josh Adams in the final games will add some gloss when Warren Gatland looks back at the end of the championship.
Re-introducing Taulupe Faletau and George North to the starting team should also be a significant bonus – the latter of who looked solid with ball in hand when featuring against Ireland.
Scotland: Two wins will be Gregor Townsend’s aim for the remaining games after their stunning victory over England – but only one looks likely with Ireland in such impressive form.
Keeping Greig Laidlaw, Finn Russell and John Barclay firing will also be key – as the trio are chief lieutenants in a burgeoning side.
When reflecting on the campaign, the Scots can be proud of their performances against the Red Rose and France – but disappointed with the comprehensive defeat to Wales on the opening day.
Italy: The Azzurri may finish the championship without a win, but Conor O’Shea will be content with how his side performed in the second half of the Ireland game and for spells of the defeat to France.
However, in order for the team to finish on a positive note they need to be able to stay competitive for the full 80 minutes against Wales and Scotland.
On an individual level, unearthing a quality player like Matteo Minnozzi is sure to be one of the formidable takeaways.
France: For a team sprinkled with talent, Les Bleus remain one of the rugby’s biggest enigmas.
For the FFR and Jacques Brunel to agree on a positive campaign, they need to maintain intensity for the full games against England and Wales instead of playing with panache for 40 minutes.
Hoping the players drafted in for the suspended eight will perform well will also be high on the priority list for Brunel.