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Peter Bills: Ireland must embrace team ethic for World Cup glory

Fed up with seeing southern hemisphere sides lording it over rugby men in this part of the world?

Tired of reading how another team from below the Equator stuffed one of its northern counterparts?

Me, too.

In 2010, southern hemisphere players, teams and coaches once again ruled the roost. Player of the Year (All Blacks captain Richie McCaw), Team of the Year (New Zealand), Coach of the Year (NZ’s Graham Henry) ... the only surprise is, New Zealand didn’t win Bus Driver of the Year, too.

Will it be just the same in 2011? Does it always have to be like this? It seems as if we’re stuck in the rugby equivalent of the era when Australia, and the likes of Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath, Matthew Hayden and Justin Langer, bossed the world of cricket. There seemed no end in sight to their supremacy.

Well there was, as it turned out. This week confirmed that, with England’s win in Melbourne which meant they retained the Ashes.

So what lessons can rugby men from this side of the world learn from their cricket chums? A feature of England’s successful Ashes campaign was meticulous, spot-on preparation. Nothing was left to chance.

Attitudes were worked on from way back, even before the last Ashes series in England. And teamwork was a key factor. Time and time again, it was stressed that only by creating a solidly-knit unit, a real team in the true sense of the word, could England hope to be successful in the cauldron of the southern hemisphere.

Individuals can do spectacular things on any sporting field, if they are good enough. But even their greatest achievements rarely decide alone the outcome of a complete tournament, such as an Ashes series or a Rugby World Cup.

What this means is that countries like Ireland, England, Wales or France might just as well not bother going all the way to New Zealand this September for the Rugby World Cup unless they have mastered and refined the true meaning of the word ‘team’.

Only a properly honed outfit operating as one has any hope of upsetting some apple carts and at last bringing some pride back to the battered northern hemisphere.

Since 1990, in other words 21 long years ago this year, there have been only two instances of northern hemisphere rugby sides winning tournaments against their southern hemisphere rivals. The 1997 British & Irish Lions won a Test series over South Africa and in 2003 England won the Rugby World Cup.

Other than that, the northern hemisphere has been a wasteland of broken dreams and ambitions.

Yet by comparison with its financially impoverished southern hemisphere rivals, certainly in New Zealand and Australia, rugby in the northern hemisphere is awash with money.

But maybe that’s the problem. Perhaps money has become THE No. 1 factor in the northern hemisphere. In New Zealand attention to detail and excellence are the chief motivational elements.

Cynics might say they can’t be that good because they haven’t won a World Cup since 1987. But do you honestly believe that isn’t about to change with the tournament in their country this year?

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