What is more difficult? A series win in NZ, or a Grand Slam?

Ireland wins a series win against NZ at Sky Stadium

There is a lot of noise around men’s international coaching in the Northern Hemisphere right now. Wayne Pivac has been replaced by the returning Warren Gatland. Eddie Jones has been sacked, and we await with bated breath news of his successor. Click on that link for the views of LWOSRugby writer Charlie Inglefield on England’s recent loss to South Africa.

Amongst the other Six Nations head coaches: Andy Farrell, Fabien Galthie, and Kieran Crowley are sitting pretty and Gregor Townsend is [relatively] comfortable. Ireland is relatively fresh from a series win in NZ, and an unbeaten Autumn Series. France from a Six Nations Grand Slam, as well as an unbeaten calendar year (including the Autumn Series of course). Italy has had notable victories over Wales and Australia in 2022.

Which is considered more difficult? A series win in NZ, or a Grand Slam?

Win percentages aid in terms of Grand Slam/Series win ambitions

When it comes to measuring success, what gauge are we to use? Obviously, in rugby, the World Cup is the pinnacle. Many and particularly those who like statistics, refer to the win percentage. This week plenty of rugby fans have been discussing the recently sacked Eddie Jones who had an impressive win percentage of 73 percent.

Even in the past, coaching groups that had a better than average win percentage had a better chance to claim a Grand Slam. Sir Clive Woodward earned his side’s only Grand Slam in 2003 – coincidentally, the same year England would earn their World Cup victory in Australia. His coaching record shows 71% yet he was unable to earn a series win down in New Zealand.

His 2002 team had won on home soil at Twickenham, followed up by a memorable 13-15 victory down in Wellington. Two matches in succession, but without a full three-match program, it is hard to determine if Woodward might have been successful in claiming a series win.

With all that in mind but taking a slightly different tack, this article asks, what is more difficult? A series win in NZ, or a Grand Slam? 

This article came about as a result of a Tweet by Senior Editor @Rreesrugby and the resulting thread (in which this writer got involved in). Please note, the tweet and thread were written prior to Gatland’s return as the Wales coach.

Click on here to listen to @RugbyTelf ‘s podcast alongside LWOSRugby’s Robert Rees, as they discuss the myriad of issues facing Welsh rugby. [The podcast was recorded prior to the appointment of Gatland as Wales’ head coach].

Of the current coaches, Farrell is the only one to have presided over a series win in NZ. Incoming Welsh coach, Gatland has three Grand Slams, outgoing Jones has one, as does current France coach – Fabien Galthié. Le Bleus (in 1994) is the only other Northern Hemisphere team to have won a series in New Zealand; if you don’t include the great British & Irish Lions’ series victory of 1971.

Check out France’s absolute humdinger of a score back in 1994:

A series win in NZ, or a Grand Slam? Which is tougher?

Series wins in NZ are a rare beast. Even for the Southern Hemisphere’s South Africa – who won in 1937. They may have won more but were excluded from touring several times during the apartheid era on political and human-rights grounds, yet they struggled just as much as others.

Australia succeeded back in 1986, with a team chock-full of attacking talent including David Campese. Yet apart from a two-match Bledisloe Cup period win under John Eales, they have not been successful.

Eden Park is New Zealand’s fortress. Their fans and media are unwavering in their unwillingness to accept defeat. This is why Ireland’s ability to beat the All-Blacks home and away is such an emphatic accomplishment. (France repeated the trick at home in 2021, Argentina on Kiwi soil in 2022, and England claimed a dramatic draw late on in the Autumn Series)

Ireland’s series win left many in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin scratching their heads. Ian Foster was close to being sacked, yet by year’s end, New Zealand still has a good record. They played thirteen times in 2022, winning eight times, losing on four occasions, and drawing once.

And to make a series win downunder just as difficult, they also have a proud rugby history to draw strength from.

Andy Farrell at Aviva Stadium, Ireland. (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)

Farrell can’t and wouldn’t take all the credit for Ireland’s achievement this year. He has an impressive coaching team alongside him including proven winners like the inspirational Paul O’Connell and World Cup medal-winner Mike Catt.

To make an obvious point there are fewer games to be played when winning a series in NZ but more time is spent travelling and away from home. The quality of the opposition is higher (that’s not to say that there are many gimme matches in the Six Nations, with the favourites usually providing stiff tests home and away).

Both a Grand Slam & a series win in NZ require extraordinary levels of hard work, execution, and an element of luck (a refereeing decision here or there, or the opposition having an off-day).

Conclusion: NZ Series win ‘marginally’ more difficult?

This writer tends to think that the series win is marginally more difficult. The caveat in Ireland’s case is that the current team, as well as their coaches, haven’t got a Grand Slam in their locker (yet). The real test though, and the one I think they are gunning for and focusing on, is next year’s World Cup. Can Ireland’s quarter-final hoodoo be overcome?

If they manage to, then no one will be able to ignore the fact that they are truly a great side. Yes, they will be still relying on the aging Johnny Sexton to dictate at outside-half. Can they get to the semi-final stage with him playing, say 60 minutes a game? Or nursing a knock? True, he will be targeted, and if unfairly, will the officials protect him & punish the perpetrating individual/team?

There is still a long way before Paris and the start of the next World Cup, yet what Ireland accomplished this season must be applauded.

What are your thoughts on what is more difficult?

A series win in NZ, or a Grand Slam? Leave a comment below, or visit our Facebook and Twitter social media platforms.


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