A Summer Of Hell

Posted on: 27 June 2008 by Gareth Hargreaves

Should the Home Nations summer tours be scrapped in post-World Cup years?

Rugby’s Home Nations will finally get the chance to put their feet up and rest following the latest round of summer tours to the southern hemisphere.

After a year-long season, most of the players representing England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales abroad in the last month have looked right at burn-out point, but should they even be touring in the first place?

Ireland captain Brian O’Driscoll spoke for many when he said, “I don’t think the game would suffer it there were no summer tours after a World Cup.”

Summer Results

All Blacks 44-12 England

All Blacks 37-20 England

All Blacks 21-11 Ireland

Australia 18-12 Ireland

Argentina 14-26 Scotland

Argentina 21-15 Scotland

South Africa 37-21 Wales

South Africa 43-17 Wales

“It’s been a 52-week season for a lot of us and that produces problems for professional players.”

The Irish skipper was part of Leinster’s squad who challenged for domestic and European honours the season before last, and his season never came to a close.

Whilst non international players went off for their holidays, O’Driscoll and co joined international training camps to fine tune them for the World Cup.

After a few warm-up matches in July and August, Ireland and O’Driscoll were competing in the World Cup during September and October before getting straight back into domestic rugby after Ireland’s exit.

His involvement with Ireland wasn’t over as he captained his country in the Six Nations during February and March.

Fighting for glory on domestic and European stages with Leinster, O’Driscoll was again picked to lead his country in their summer tour to Australia and New Zealand, competing over 12 months of continuous rugby activity.

England tour manager Rob Andrew echoed O’Driscoll’s complaints after watching England suffer two humiliating test defeats in New Zealand.

“A lot of the players have been going for 12 months.”

“Our World Cup training started exactly 12 months ago, so it’s been a very, very long year for the guys.”

Ireland were able to take a strong squad across the equator and across the world but the same could not be said for England, Wales and Scotland.

Andrew estimated England headed for New Zealand without 10 or 11 of their first-choice squad while Wales were without half a dozen frontline players for their trip to world champions South Africa.

Scotland were without a handful of big names but they did manage a first win in four attempts in Argentina to give the Home Nations a slice off the winning table.

Welsh coach Warren Gatland insisted their tour was still an important step on the road to winning the 2011 World Cup.

“Playing against teams like South Africa is a good litmus test, it’s a new level for us,” he says.

“We need to look at England, who tried to play southern hemisphere opposition as much as possible.”

“First they began beating them at Twickenham, which got their confidence up, then they started winning away from home and then they went on to win the World Cup.”

Mike TindallDespite England’s two hammerings at the hands of the All Blacks, Andrew insists, “We’ve learnt an awful lot over the last two matches”.

There is history here, England’s terrible tour of 1998 to Australia, New Zealand and South Africa was labelled the “Tour from Hell” after a poor squad were hammered by all three southern hemisphere giants.

After Saturday’s second battering, Andrew defended the current trip, saying it was “certainly not a “Tour from Hell” by any stretch of the imagination”, and even that adventure from 10 years ago had its plus points.

Jonny Wilkinson believes it was an important post on the way to England’s 2003 World Cup victory but could the same be said of England’s current crop, the likes of Topsy Ojo, Danny Care, Tom Rees and Luke Narraway?

But the fact that the phrase “Tour from Hell” crops up again every summer, must tell its own story.

It’s a tale of under-strength, underprepared and physically shattered parties travelling from the Home Nations to be slaughtered in the southern winter at the end of a gruelling season.

The four countries together won just one match out of nine this summer - Scotland’s win over Argentina, and the Pumas had to deal with a mass exodus of their World Cup squad through injury or unavailability.

Ireland again made friends Down Under but are still looking for their first win in Australia or New Zealand despite their battling displays, while Wales and England’s fixtures would have been stopped early if they were in the boxing ring.

For all the brave words about blooding youngsters and learning about new players, shouldn’t the heads of all four unions realise that this is test match rugby and not just a game of touch in the park?

The southern hemisphere sides are intimidating and daunting enough to travel to without taking them on with one hand tied behind your backs.

So has the time come, at least in post-World Cup years, to call a halt to these summer ventures?

Should summer tours be scrapped? Is the work load on current professional players too much? Give us your view by leaving a comment in the box below. Alternatively, discuss your thoughts in the 50connect forums.

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