Summer tours or summer bores?


England were competitive against New Zealand for the first one and a half tests, despite being under strength in the first. In the second test against South Africa, Wales missed their best opportunity yet of recording a first away win versus a Tri Nations opponent in the professional era. A late, but fair, penalty try was awarded by referee Steve Walsh and converted by Morné Steyn, consigning Warren Gatland’s men to a gut wrenching one point loss.

Wales, having not played a third test, will take heart from their final performance of a long post Lions tour year and it will stand them in good stead for the upcoming Rugby World Cup preparation season. England and France on the other hand were humbled 3-0 against New Zealand and Australia, respectively, and both were completely outplayed in their final dead rubber match. A test too far. Demoralising for coaches and players and a bit of a bore for the fans.

These three-nil whitewash series are all too familiar. Three years into the three match June tour format and a northern hemisphere side is yet to record a single away victory against New Zealand, South Africa or Australia. Not just in test series wins – in test match wins. Zero wins from a staggering eighteen contests. England’s draw with South Africa, in the dead rubber final test in 2012, being the only game not lost by a Six Nations touring side.

Six tours out of six lost and seventeen out of eighteen matches lost. These stats are just about as bad as can be imagined in professional sport, at the highest level.

All negativity aside, if scheduling issues are resolved and the three test series is turned into two, with a third test being played against a so called tier two nation, there is no reason why these tours cannot be a more worthwhile exercise.

This argument would have benefited from Wales winning in Nelspruit last weekend, but the two most successful recent summer tours for Six Nations sides did involve just two matches against the same opponents. When France toured New Zealand in 2009 and England tackled Australia in June 2010, both test series finished one apiece. In 2012, Scotland managed a win in a one-off game against Australia.

Players are undoubtedly more motivated by a shorter, two test format – one win and they know that they cannot lose the series. Not a defeatist attitude, just a realistic one. History shows that most European rugby players retire having never won an away fixture against South Africa, Australia or New Zealand in their careers, let alone two or three in the space of a few end of season weekends.

Another serious problem with the three test format is the scheduling of the first test. Decision makers from the IRB, national federations and league governing bodies must come to an agreement that the first June international weekend should be two weeks after the Pro 12, Top 14 and Premiership finals. England and France, who faced the same issue in New Zealand last year, should never have been forced to play a test just a week after the Premiership and Top 14 finals, as this deprived Stuart Lancaster and Philippe Saint-André of several key players. If the Six Nations sides that travel are under strength at the start there is certainly no justification in having a three test series.

There should still be a third capped test for all sides involved but these matches must involve the so-called second tier nations. As an example, in an ideal 2014 June schedule, England would now be in the USA, Canada or Japan; Australia on their way to Fiji; France visiting Tonga and of course New Zealand would be playing Samoa in Apia. These tests would provide a considerable financial boost to the struggling Pacific Islands unions and also help the sport develop in emerging markets. Few could argue that these would be less worthwhile than the evidently pointless non-deciding third tests between rugby’s oldest powers.

Next year’s Rugby World Cup provides a break from the current June tours and there is therefore considerable time for a rethink. If the current tour schedule until 2019 is followed it could provide a repeat cycle of frustration and painful results for the northern hemisphere sides each June from 2016-2018. By then the number of matches lost could be in the thirties and the number of test series lost in double figures. A bit of realism is required. Less might just mean more in the long term – the north might put up a better fight against the south in a two test format and if the third test can be used to narrow the gap between tier one and tier two nations, the June internationals could provide a meaningful legacy.

Three test series results:


South Africa 2-0 England (1 draw)
Australia 3-0 Wales
New Zealand 3-0 Ireland


New Zealand 3-0 France


Australia 3-0 France
New Zealand 3-0 England

By Alistair Pickering (@FollowRugbySite)

Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images

10 thoughts on “Summer tours or summer bores?

  1. To my knowledge it is not a common occurrence, merely when the 31st of May straddles the weekend with the 1st of June, when this doesn’t occur then there is sufficient time to rest, recuperate and travel before the 1st test.

    So all that really needs to be done is to check when this occurs, and shove the test window back a little every few years (or simply don’t call the 31st/1st the first weekend in June, and instead name it as the 7th/8th).

    I like the 3 test series, and even with the results, was still looking forward to the 3rd test in anticipation.

  2. “Three years into the three match June tour format and a northern hemisphere side is yet to record a single away victory against New Zealand, South Africa or Australia.”

    Are Scotland now a Southern Hemisphere team?

  3. Impossibly difficult to play 3 tests after such a long, hard club season.

    My solution? Cut the club season, not the tours. Do we need a 39 week domestic season (22+2 league, 6+3 Euro Cups, 4+2 LV Cup)? When players retire, they’re going to be talking about turning over the Southern Hemisphere teams in their own backyard and, if it were to happen, about the time they won a series there. Not when they secured a losing bonus point in the rain at Kingston Park before Christmas that one time.

      1. I’d actually try to mimic the Southern Hemisphere season. So we’d have a European tournament running alongside Super rugby, then domestic competitions running alongside Internationals. More European games, but much fewer domestic games for International players. So a player may play 15 or so European games over 4 months (competition from February to June) then 13 Internationals (away 3 test series in July, 6 Nations in September/October, home 3 test series in November + couple of “tune-up” matches against tier 2 teams), for example.

        Southern Hemisphere would be all for it, as they wouldn’t have to interrupt their Super Rugby season to host us.

  4. So because NH sides can’t win a single match on tour against SH sides now they should play a “tier 2 nation”? Is that so they can actually win something and give themselves a part on the back?

    Anyone would think the SH sides weren’t playing club rugby either… bearing in mind they travel between the big three way more than their European counterparts. Or maybe once the series is won. ..You can say the SH sides can only put out 10 of 15 star players! ! Ridiculous.

    Look at how NZ take rugby so seriously, from Junior school there is a level of coaching that far surpasses anything here in UK. What do you expect? They are the best in union in the world because they make it a way of life. We have the arrogance…we have the players, if you listened to that barnes character you would think England were just universally the greatest team since invention. We are not. We got beaten by side that played for 20 mins in the first test. So let’s play smaller sides so we can build our confidence? ? We will never compete with the big boys with that attitude.

    Play them as often as possible, learn from them, sort out the younger generation coaching and building. We can win back to back jwc, so why not the big boys? Most of all get rid of Ashton and farrell…arrogant nothings, bring back people like haskell… all he wants to do is play rugby. … anywhere he can.

  5. big D

    Agree that the NH are only going to get better by playing the SH more i.e. yrly. Don’t konw how exactly, but this tour was organised, so in theory, why not yrly in future?

    The set up is a bit diff in NZ (similarly in the other 2 main SH sides as well?) tho. You mention coaching in schools for example, but the whole game in NZ is run from top to botom by the Union. This makes for more uniformity of style of play & id’ing young players early & progging them thru the school, club, prov, S15 system & then on to Int’al level. The JWC is a 1 off out to 1 side. If serious abt it, NZ need to stress this comp more deeply in future.

    The set up in England is based around clubs & other bodies Euro Cup etc which don’t nec have coomon interests. Also the RFU seems to have been depowered (like the FA in football?) as clubs exert their muscle as seen in the Euro game shake up over here.

    On the other hand England have more dosh & players.

    The diff, it seems to me is in these attitudes to running the game & way it is played.

    You likely know all this, nevertheless I do agree that the sides must play each other regularly to shrink the gap.

  6. Thanks for reading & the comments all – always good to hear different views!
    Niall – well aware of Scotland’s win, but left out stat at last minute, apologies for that. Clearly one of “the wins” by any side since 2011.
    Big D – the basic point is just that two tests v top SH teams is enough and an end of season test against an upcoming / 2nd tier nation. Do you think Samoa would be a pushover in Apia, or Fiji in Suva, for all the Six Nations / Tri Nations sides? The benefit to these countries would be huge. The third tests are boring and predictable – just look at the results above. We could go the other way.. Why not play them 4 times or 5 times – move in the direction of one day or 20/20 cricket!
    I agree with you on Haskell. It was a shame he didn’t feature after the 1st test. He’s one of the form players in England, playing as well as he was in 2011. Annoying that Lancaster didn’t give him more game time. I think he could do a job at 7. Would be interesting to see Robshaw play 6 and open the door for Haskell, Fraser, Armitage or Kvesic to see if having a scavenger would benefit the side.

  7. Jamie, great article first of all and I am all for the idea of two test match series, simply because rugby needs to grow as a brand across the globe.

    What are the statistics for SH sides on end of year “grand slam” tours? And is it not time to move to an international rugby calendar similar to what football has?

    Finally, the only reservation I have about the idea of playing second tier nations is, will larger unions (NH) be willing to earn less money by playing against tier 2 nations?

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