Rugby: Mallett hammers home the bad news

By Peter Bills

Nick Mallett says Northern Hemisphere ruby lacks intensity, speed and execution. File Photo / NZ Herald
Nick Mallett says Northern Hemisphere ruby lacks intensity, speed and execution. File Photo / NZ Herald

Barbarians coach Nick Mallett yesterday spelled out the harsh facts of world rugby life to a failing Northern Hemisphere.

Mallett's strong views, ahead of today's Barbarians v South Africa game at Twickenham, come after a November test series of southern supremacy that has left the Northern Hemisphere countries covered by a blanket of gloom, not just snow.

"Your international teams would struggle to beat the top four or five sides in Super 15 rugby," said the South African who now coaches Italy. "There are far too many average games in Northern Hemisphere rugby. Even in competitions like the Heineken Cup, the French Top 14, the English Premiership and the Celtic League, you can lower your guard in any of those games.

"There isn't the same speed, intensity, precision of execution demanded as in Super 15. There, any side can turn over anyone else.

"There is no easy game anywhere in that competition and the fact they have to play over three months against very high-quality teams every week, with perhaps seven or eight internationals in them, demands a really good effort just to win a game.

"That breeds competitiveness. Then there is the speed and skill we see in Super rugby which translates into the Tri-Nations. Okay, if you reach the semifinal of the Heineken Cup and have a match like Toulouse v Munster, that starts getting up to that level. But too many games in the north are not at that standard at all.

"A good Sharks or Stormers side would give a really good game to Wales, England, Ireland, Scotland or France. I'm not saying they would automatically beat them but it would be a bloody close game."

This sobering assessment echoed the views of Springbok coach Peter de Villiers earlier this year. Then, he explained his reluctance to choose many Northern Hemisphere-based players because, like Mallett, he refused to accept that standards there matched those of the Southern Hemisphere in terms of intensity.

Mallett believes opportunity knocks for several newer names in the South African side chosen for today's match against the Baa-baas. He said: "They have done the right thing by resting most of their big names. It's right that the guys who have been holding the tackle-bags all tour should be given a start."

"Players like Willem Alberts, who is a really powerful guy and a very good ball carrier, can make a further case for inclusion in the World Cup squad. The little wing, Lwazi Mvovo, can confirm his good start at this level.

"I reckon the Boks management is pretty sure of their top team, going towards the World Cup. But there will be lots of opportunities between now and then for the guys who must fill in as back-up performers."

Mallett's Barbarians have what he calls "a wonderful back line", with Matt Giteau, James O'Connor, Will Genia and Adam Ashley-Cooper of Australia, plus Ma'a Nonu and Joe Rokocoko. But he has warned his team they must match the South Africans up front first.

"They just come at you all day up front."

- NZ Herald

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