Last chance for northern nations to make an impression

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Save for just the one difference in standings, the divide between the teams in the northern and southern hemispheres could not be more stark if you put a thick black marker underneath the nations below the equator.

A year out from the start of the eighth World Cup and the gulf has never been wider.

Stuart Lancaster (right) alongside Graham Rowntree (left)

Stuart Lancaster (right) alongside Graham Rowntree (left)

Nations from the southern hemisphere appear head and shoulders above the rest.

New Zealand are the undoubted No 1, having lost just two games since winning the 2011 World Cup on home soil.

The second of those defeats came against South Africa in Johannesburg just last month, and the Springboks duly sit second in the International Rugby Board’s world rankings.

Stuart Lancaster’s England are the party poopers. Their rousing victory over the All Blacks 23 months ago is one of the many victories they have had in rising to third in the world, above, among others, Australia.

The Wallabies let the southern hemipshere side down but a couple of wins in Europe this month, including against England on November 29, and the tables will be corrected.

That top four provides emphasis, were it needed, of the size of the task facing England this autumn as they seek to put a marker down for next year’s global gathering.

Below Australia is Ireland, the Six Nations winners earlier this year, who will climb above the men in gold if they can begin their own November campaign with a win over the Springboks today, allied with a Wallabies defeat in Wales.

Warren Gatland’s Welsh are sixth, ahead of the increasingly frustrating France and the slowly improving Scotland.

Samoa – England’s third visitors to Twickenham this month – have edged ahead of Argentina into ninth, a sign of both their own growth and the Pumas’ steady decline.

The upshot of these statistics is that the north versus south fixtures this month in London, Dublin, Cardiff, Edinburgh and Paris are huge for the European nations as they look to cause even the merest hint of concern in the tourists’ camps.

Each nation can look back on the odd victory here and there against the so-called ‘superpowers’ but more often than not, they have failed to regularly deflate their air of invincibility.

Nowhere is the gap as wide as it is when analysing Wales’ record.

Not since November 2008 and the 11th game of head coach Gatland’s current 82-Test reign have Wales floored a southern hemisphere heavyweight.

Even England have been unable to turn occasional wins into a collection of victories.

In 2012, Lancaster’s first autumn, they trounced the All Blacks with a performance that saved them from a chastening post-mortem after suffering earlier defeats to Australia and South Africa.

Last year, they beat Australia, but succumbed to New Zealand and the Springboks.

Given they or any northern hemisphere team will have to beat two sides from the south next year if they are to lift the Webb Ellis trophy, then this month represents the last chance to prove to themselves and the world, that they can do so.

Each autumn the best in the world arrive in western Europe battle-hardened by their own Rugby Championship, which rages from August to October.

Argentina are the only ‘easy’ game in that competition, their introduction after the 2011 World Cup yet to have the desired effect on the game in South America.

But tussles that are waged between the three heavyweights are as brutal as anything in the sport.

There is a school of thought that by November, the All Blacks, ‘Boks and Wallabies are jaded, having been cocooned in camp since July and travelling the world since the following month.

The closing performances of New Zealand in particular, bear that out.

On the final weekend of their northern tour two years ago they suffered that rare humiliation against England, while last year, as they chased a perfect season, Ireland pushed them all the way before Ryan Crotty’s injury-time try and Aaron Cruden’s conversion, spared them defeat.

The flip side of that argument is that they are so in-sync, that the trio of heavy hitters have enough to overcome their hosts by just going through the motions.

The true answer lies somewhere in the middle, but statistics and history don’t lie; unless the northern hemisphere nations can redress the balance this month, then expect a team from south of the equator to be parading the Webb Ellis trophy around the Twickenham pitch on October 31 next year.