Northern hemisphere success suggests tectonic shift in rugby's balance of power could be in progress

Bob Baker
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England's win over South Africa at the weekend was their first against the Springboks in 10 years (Source: Getty)

The last two weekends of international rugby might well have indicated that the prolonged period of southern hemisphere dominance is beginning to draw to an end, at least in the form to which we have become accustomed.

With the Irish overpowering the All Blacks, England dismantling South Africa and an under-strength Scotland unlucky to have come up a point short against Australia, there is a strong sense that times are changing.

This does not feel like a one-off clutch of results, but the product of a gap which has continued to close over the last two seasons.

Read more: Eddie Jones tips Ben Youngs to emulate South Africa great

It is not just that the English, Irish and Scots have improved, but also that the Australians and South Africans have regressed.

England faced arguably the most uninspiring South African side to have ever pulled on the Springbok jersey and recorded their first victory in a decade, running away 37-21 winners on Saturday at Twickenham.

The South African Rugby Union is in disarray and the use of the organisation as a political tool by the government means that it has become riddled with the same rot.

Boks lack on coaching front

The Springboks have coaches of questionable merit, a squad devoid of positive culture, and a group of players seemingly with little desire to represent the nation.

Head coach Allister Coetzee has orchestrated defeats to Argentina, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and now England so far in his short tenure.

His backs are drilled by ex-sevens player Mzwandile Stick, whose main coaching pedigree comprises one year in charge of the Eastern Province U19 side and one year as assistant for the Southern Kings, who managed to lose 13 of their 15 fixtures in 2016.

Successful sides normally have two main characteristics: exceptional players and a respected coach. South Africa have neither.

England’s players continue to develop, but Eddie Jones’s career record automatically gives weight to his words and his public comments regarding individual players have been tough but constructive.

Chris Robshaw and Tom Wood have responded exactly as Jones would have hoped.

For now, the side seems to respect and enjoy the tough Jones regime which has restored the arrogance that England were too nice to express under his predecessor Stuart Lancaster.

With New Zealand the only major threat to England’s unbeaten record not invited to Twickenham, this group look set to maintain their post-World Cup clean sweep.

Welsh Woes

The game’s tectonic shift continues to exclude Wales who narrowly edged past Argentina 24-20 in uncharismatic fashion on Saturday.

With the Welsh style of play predictable and easily defended, it raises some concern of what might be Warren Gatland’s approach for the 2017 British and Irish Lions tour to New Zealand.

English, Irish and Scottish players are all gaining in confidence, so it could be the tourists’ most realistic chance of ever turning over the All Blacks on their home patch.

Gatland will have to be intelligent in his coaching team selection.

Glasgow head coach Gregor Townsend’s name is mentioned with most frequency, and if there is logic to a weighting in favour of the form domestic side, then a number of strategists in both the green and the white camps must also be under sincere consideration.

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