By Greg Stutchbury
TOKYO (Reuters) – All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has fired a shot at the Six Nations countries to abandon their self interest and try to work with World Rugby to get a global calendar.
Hansen, who is preparing his side for their Rugby World Cup semi-final against England on Saturday, added that a lack of regular play between northern and southern hemisphere nations had meant there was no traditional rivalry between the sides.
“I think South Africa will always be our biggest rival because of the history that comes with it,” he told reporters in Tokyo. “That’s the nature of the fact because we play each other so regularly.
“I think we have played England once in the last six years and it’s hard to build a rivalry when you don’t play each other.
“If we could get the Six Nations to come on board with a global season then we might able to do that.
“Once they do that, they’re starting to think about the game rather than themselves.”
New Zealand rugby officials have long argued for a better co-ordinated international calendar to ensure that northern and southern hemisphere competitions can be better aligned and to better manage player workload.
Earlier this year, World Rugby proposed a competition that would involve the Six Nations and southern hemisphere’s Rugby Championship sides playing regularly against each other while allowing for promotion for tier two nations.
The proposal, however, was scuppered after a “lack of consensus” emerged between the game’s power brokers.
British media reported at the time that members of the Six Nations had been against the idea and World Rugby Chief Executive Brett Gosper said it was an opportunity lost.
It was a popular idea in the southern hemisphere and raised hopes among tier two countries like Fiji that have been shut out of the lucrative annual competitions and want more chances to play the global rugby powers.
Fiji coach Jon McKee also criticised the decision to abandon the proposal, while coaches from other tier two nations have argued throughout the tournament for greater and more regular exposure for their sides to the top-rank of countries.
Hansen, however, did point to the success that Japan — which is officially a tier two nation — has had in the tournament, with the Brave Blossoms making their first quarter-final after they won a pool that included Ireland and Scotland.
Japan were beaten 26-3 by the Springboks in their quarter-final in Tokyo on Sunday.
“Japan have been outstanding,” Hansen said. “I think after the game you could see visibly how much it meant to them. Emotionally they were spent and I think that’s a great sign for rugby in Japan.
“People in Japan respect that they gave everything they had … and they are a huge success story of the tournament.”
(Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by David Holmes)