Heading into July, all eyes were on the clash between rugby worlds.
Twice a year, windows exist in the international calendar for teams from the Northern Hemisphere to tour the Southern Hemisphere, and vice versa. Given the sport’s geographically-insular nature outside of these time periods, such occasions are critical measures of rugby development in each region.
Last November, the four big Southern Hemisphere teams—New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and Argentina—headed North to play their counterparts.
A total of thirteen rugby games were played between the hemispheres, with the Northern teams winning eight, and South Africa the only Southern side returning home holding a winning record. Remove the weakest European side from that equation, Italy, and the numbers only look worse, showing only three wins to the Southern Hemisphere.
The Stage Set for Revenge
It goes without saying then, that this July, the prospect of Ireland, England, Wales and Scotland all going on tour to the Southern Hemisphere was a mouth-watering proposition.
With four best-of-three series being played this month, how would the numbers fall? Would the North assert its dominance, signaling a shift in power in the rugby world; or would the Southern Hemisphere avenge its poor end to the season last year?
The latter, it seems—after one week, the Southern teams lead 4-0, outplaying their Northern counterparts and leaving them winless in the opening week of touring.
Here’s a quick look at how each match unfolded:
New Zealand vs Ireland: 42-19
Having won two of their last three matches against the All Blacks, Ireland were out for blood, seeking their first ever win in New Zealand.
They’d have to break a 28-year winning streak for the home side at Eden Park, and for the first twenty minutes, it looked every bit possible. The visitors came out with confidence, stringing together phases and silencing the crowd by scoring the first try. The All Blacks looked lackluster—that is, until they didn’t.
Jordie Barrett scored off a break by debutant Leicester Fainga’anuku, before minutes later Sevu Reece pounced on a loose ball to score from 60m out. Quinn Tupaea added further pain dotting down a clever grubber under the posts, and by the time Ardie Savea crossed over on half-time, the scoreboard read 28-5 and the result was essentially sealed.
Tries soon after half-time and three minutes out from the final whistle gave Ireland something to be pleased with, but two more All Black tries in the second half ensured this match was well and truly theirs.
Read more about the All Blacks.
Australia vs England: 30-28
Six years ago, England arrived on Australian soil and executed a 3-0 whitewash.
When Darcy Swain was red-carded for a headbutt, leaving Australia more than half the match to play with only 14 men, the beginnings of another clean sweep looked likely to form. However, the men in gold dug deep, and for a match that was locked at 6-6 at halftime, exploded into life, scoring three unanswered tries to take a commanding 30-14 lead.
Two late consolation tries to England made this match appear tight, when in reality, the tourists were thoroughly outplayed despite having a man advantage.
South Africa vs Wales: 32-29
Coming off a weak Six Nations campaign, Wales were not expected to trouble reigning World Champions, South Africa.
Tell that to the home team, when they had their halftime talk facing a scoreline that read 18-3 in the visitors’ favor. Whatever was said in that huddle worked, because South Africa came out firing, clawing their way back to lead 29-24. Wales looked to have spoiled their party however, scoring with only 13 men to level the match at 29-29 and three minutes to play, though a missed conversion meant they weren’t able to take back the lead.
After the siren drama unfolded, as South Africa were awarded a controversial penalty for an intentional slap down of the ball, seizing their chance to kick three points and take the win.
Argentina vs Scotland: 26-18
Having not played at home in almost two years, Argentina were eager to give home fans something to cheer about.
Despite being a gritty match, Argentina delivered and claimed their first win at home in more than three years. After a tight opening quarter, two tries in quick succession towards the end of the first half gave them a useful 18-6 lead at the break. This was steadily reduced by Scotland in the third quarter, who drew level at 18-18 with 25 minutes to play. A break out try by Gonzalo Bertranou, followed by a penalty by Emiliano Boffelli took the lead beyond one score, and the gap proved insurmountable for the Scots.
This weekend was a huge tick in the box next to the Southern Hemisphere teams—and the coming weekend is an opportunity to solidify that achievement. Can the South rub salt in the wounds of the Northern Hemisphere and make it 8-0, or will the North bounce back?