Monday 19 February 2018

Mallett blasts northern hemisphere standards

Peter Bills

Barbarians coach Nick Mallett has spelled out the harsh facts of world rugby life to a failing northern hemisphere. Mallett's views, ahead of today's Barbarians v South Africa game at Twickenham, come after a November Test series of southern hemisphere supremacy that has left the northern hemisphere countries covered by a blanket of gloom.

"Even your international teams would struggle to beat the top four or five sides in Super 14 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 Magners 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 14. There, any side can turn over anyone else as we have seen.

"There is no easy game anywhere in that Super 14 competition and the fact that 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 a lot of competitiveness. Then there is the speed and skill we see in the Super 14, which translates into the Tri Nations. Okay, if you reach the semi-final of the Heineken Cup and have a match like Toulouse v Munster, that starts getting up to that Super 14 level. But too many games in the northern hemisphere are not at that standard at all. There isn't the same speed or pace and the hits are not as hard.

"For me, the Super 14 standard is definitely up there with the level of international rugby in the northern hemisphere. 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 of the growing chasm between the two hemispheres echoes the views of Springboks coach Peter de Villiers earlier this year when explaining his reluctance to choose northern hemisphere-based players.

Meanwhile, Mallett believes opportunity knocks for several newer names in the South African side chosen for today's clash. "They have done the right thing by resting most of their big names," he said. "It's right that the guys who have been holding the tackle bags all tour should get on the field and be given a start."

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

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

"This South African team will be no different to the others. They just come at you all day up front. They'll use their forwards to try and get onto the front foot. We have to match that if we want to use those backs of ours."

Barbarians -- J O'Connor (Aus); J Rococoko (NZ), D Mitchell (Aus), A Ashley-Cooper (Aus), M Nonu (NZ); M Giteau (Aus, capt), W Genia (Aus); S Perugini (Ita), S Moore (Aus), N Tialata (NZ); A Van Zyl (Stormers), C Jack (NZ); R So'oialo (NZ), M Williams (Wales), C Bourke (Chiefs). Reps: K Mealamu (NZ), J Yapp (Wales), Q Geldenhuys (Ita), D Braid (NZ), A Ellis (NZ), S Donald (NZ), S Rabeni (Fiji).

South Africa -- P Lambie; O Ndungane, A Jacobs, A Strauss, L Mvovo; E Jantjies, F Hougaard; C Oosthuizen, A Strauss, CJ van der Linde; B Botha, A Hargreaves; W Alberts, J Smith, R Kankowski. Reps: B Maku, T Mtawarira, F van der Merwe, K Daniel , C McLeod, G Aplon.

The Barbarians v South Africa,

Live, Sky Sports 1, 2.30

Irish Independent

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