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Sunday, 10 November, 2002, 16:24 GMT
Europe's golden weekend?
Jonny Wilkinson goes over to score against New Zealand
Wilkinson was in inspirational form for England

All hail the Southern Hemisphere, the Tri-Nations and rugby union's untouchable triumvirate.

Or, rather, let's not.

If England and Ireland's wins over New Zealand and Australia gave the Northern Hemisphere a reason to invoke the best form of patriotism, then France's triumph over the Springboks allowed us all to feel truly European.

There was a time when playing the Big Three would leave even the most teetotal of fans with the dreaded Sunday convulsions.

How refreshing, therefore, to see European rugby basking in the glory of both success and the manner in which all three victories were achieved.

That England scraped past an All Blacks side missing a number of Test players is insignificant.

England winger Ben Cohen
Cohen scores in spectacular style
This was not a golden performance from Clive Woodward's men - a fact of which they are well aware.

New Zealand played like every All Black side in history - with conviction, power, pace and passion. And yet it was not enough.

Do not underestimate the importance of this result. The Kiwis have plagued English rugby throughout history.

One victory every 20-or-so years has previously instilled a sense of foreboding at the mere thought of the Haka.

Saturday's epic contest not only laid a famous English ghost to rest but placed the foundations for a potential treble of Southern Hemisphere scalps.

Jonny Wilkinson's 21-point performance was sublime.

But equally eye-catching were try-scoring flanker Lewis Moody, the ever-present Richard Hill, prop Trevor Woodman and flying battleship Ben Cohen.

Woodard's pledge not to "gloat" is testament to an ever-growing confidence and that both he and his team are keeping their eye on the bigger picture - the Six Nations and the 2003 Rugby World Cup.

Ireland's Ronan O'Gara
O'Gara gave a first-class kicking display
Number eight Lawrence Dallaglio suggested last week that if England cannot finally claim the elusive Grand Slam they may as well "all pack up and go home".

Let's hope Eddie O'Sullivan's men were taking note - for it is them in Dublin that Dallaglio and his team-mates face on the final weekend of championship action.

And on current form the bookies will be scratching their heads.

Though the results pages show only that Ireland had to be content with six Ronan O'Gara penalties - content they will certainly be.

Australia were out-tackled, out-run and crucially out-muscled by a fired-up Ireland side who now play with an intensity few sides are able to match.

Their performance confirmed to the world what those who witnessed their destruction of Wales last year have long since recognised; that they have the ability and self-belief to dine at rugby's top table.

Quite who sits at the head of the feast remains open to debate, but France will have more invites than most after their destruction of South Africa.

'Les Bleus' have uncovered an array of young talent of which any national coach would rightly be envious.

France winger Cedric Heymans
Heymans scored a fantastic try against South Africa
Remember these players, for they will almost-certainly become household names; number eight Imanol Harinordoquy, fly-half Francois Gelez, and wingers Cedric Heymans and Vincent Clerc.

Together they are likely to form the nucleus of a France side capable of dominating for many years to come.

With one of the most impressive front-rows in French history and players of the calibre of Thomas Castaignede, Fabien Galthie, Olivier Magne and Serge Betsen, coach Bernard Laporte has all the ingredients to return from Australia triumphant next year.

The Springboks, as is their way, tried both lawfully or otherwise to subdue the home team.

But, as the All Blacks know only too well, France are more than able to match fire-with-fire, and when it comes to counter-attacking, there is no side better equipped.

Whatever happens in the next few weekends, England should not forget that perhaps their greatest rival for world domination live a short hop over the Channel.

 NOV 9 INTERNATIONALS
 ENG V NZ
 IRE V AUS
 WALES V FIJI
 SCOT V ROM
 FRANCE V SA

Links to more International stories are at the foot of the page.


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