SIR CLIVE WOODWARD: Northern clean sweep a boost ahead of World Cup

SIR CLIVE WOODWARD: The home nations’ clean sweep against southern hemisphere sides is a huge boost for the European game… everything is starting to click into place for the continent’s leading sides ahead of next year’s World Cup

  • England and Ireland beat Australia and New Zealand respectively on Saturday
  • Wales and Scotland also got past South Africa and Argentina later in the day
  • This completed a clean sweep of victories for the northern hemisphere sides
  • This is a huge boost for Europe ahead of next year’s World Cup in France

This weekend was a huge shot in the arm for northern hemisphere rugby.

For England, Ireland, Wales and Scotland to beat Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Argentina away from home is a massive boost for the European game. 

Victories for the home nations in the southern hemisphere are rare, so to produce a clean sweep is just remarkable. It immediately adds extra spice to next year’s World Cup.

England beat Australia in Brisbane to set up next week’s series decider Down Under in Sydney

Ireland beat the All Blacks for the first time in New Zealand to level their three-match series

I’ve been clear that international rugby is all about the next game and nothing else should matter, but to win the World Cup it is vital you have no fear of taking on the best on the planet.

I remember one of the first press conferences I gave in Perth when we arrived in Australia for the 2003 tournament. A journalist asked me if we were right to be considered one of the favourites.

My response was: ‘Why shouldn’t we be? Surely we are the favourites?’ It was not a typically English response and it surprised the reporters, but as a team we had consistently beaten the best sides in the world home and away.

You have to have confidence you can beat teams like New Zealand and South Africa because if you don’t, you are almost defeated before you set foot on the field.

Scotland completed a clean sweep for the northern hemisphere sides by beating Argentina

Wales also picked up a dramatic late win against South Africa in Bloemfontein

That’s why Saturday’s results were so important, especially because the wins were away from home. England, Ireland, Wales and Scotland will be full of beans and all four countries now have series deciders on the cards this weekend.

It’s not good for the game to have predictable results and the southern hemisphere giants winning all the time. Saturday will be a rugby feast with it all on the line.

I was heartened by England’s first-half performance and I think they have a serious chance to go on and win their series now.

Ireland, meanwhile, seem to be going from strength to strength under Andy Farrell. What a job he has done with them. I talk about having no fear against the southern hemisphere giants — blimey, Ireland are now used to beating the All Blacks!

England were much-improved in the first half against Australia, using their maul to good effect

Ireland are getting better and better under the guidance of head coach Andy Farrell

All four head coaches deserve a great deal of credit. Eddie Jones, Farrell, Wayne Pivac and Gregor Townsend will be mightily pleased. Their job is not yet done of course, but their teams have made big steps in the right direction.

Wales in particular have produced an astonishing turnaround. They were very poor in the Six Nations and lost at home to Italy for the first time, so to beat the world champions in their own backyard is a remarkable feat.

I think Pivac should get a pat on the back — he had a lot of confidence going to South Africa and spoke openly about that.

I’m sure I wasn’t the only one to think that confidence was misplaced, but Pivac and his team have delivered. They should have won the first Test and then claimed the second.

Wayne Pivac’s Wales have bounced back from the Six Nations and are growing in confidence

Some will point out South Africa’s 14 changes and say Wales were given a chance, but that was still a very strong Springbok side with Eben Etzebeth and Handre Pollard. Any team that can bring in the best player in the Premiership in Andre Esterhuizen has serious quality. Well done Wales. Now, go and finish the job.

The same applies to England, Ireland and Scotland.

It is fascinating to me that the weekend’s results mean France will now go top of World Rugby’s rankings, with Ireland in second. You might think the rankings don’t stand for much, but that is not the case because they give you priceless confidence and belief.

France have now moved top of the world rankings  – a major boost for the northern hemisphere

They show excellence over a sustained period and are not reflected by one-off victories to win the World Cup.

That belief will now be starting to grow in Jones, Farrell, Pivac and Townsend and they must not let that feeling slip away.

The challenge is to make sure Saturday’s results are not isolated incidents.

A competitive rivalry between the north and south only enhances our great game. It has been a long time coming but this time it is here to stay.

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