'Scheduling helped northern teams close gap'
The apparent closing of the gap between the northern and southern hemisphere rugby teams evident at the weekend is in part the result of a change in scheduling, according to Wales defence coach Shaun Edwards.
Wales and Ireland lost to Australia and New Zealand in heartbreaking fashion on Saturday, undone by dramatic late kicks to fall to unrecoverable 2-0 deficits in their respective three-match series.
The closeness of the matches in Melbourne and Christchurch, as well as England's competitiveness despite going 2-0 down in their series against South Africa, suggested to many that northern hemisphere teams were improving.
Edwards, however, said that outside the World Cup and before the reintroduction of the three-test series in June, the southern hemisphere had always enjoyed a distinct advantage in meetings with European teams.
"If you look at the results over the years, the strength has been in the southern hemisphere," he told a news conference.
"But you have to look at the preparation that the southern hemisphere teams have compared to the northern hemisphere teams.
"The only time we compete on a level footing is at the World Cup ... Every year, the Australians, New Zealanders and South Africans have four months together before finishing in the UK at the end of November.
"The northern hemisphere teams sometimes just have a week to prepare for those games.
"So you notice in the World Cup, the northern hemisphere teams do substantially better than in the Autumn series and the end-of-season fixtures in June, when our guys have been playing for almost a year non-stop."
Englishman Edwards made it clear that he was in no way disparaging the quality of rugby played by the southern hemisphere powerhouses, and Australia in particular.
"The preparation has been an issue in the past but you also have to put your hands up and respect the standard of rugby played down here," he added.
"I certainly think in the first 20 minutes of the first test ... it was the fastest game some of our guys had played.
"So you have to give respect to the guys down here for the standard of rugby they're playing but you have to remember that preparation has always been in favour of the southern hemisphere teams."
Edwards said the Welsh had recovered from the 25-23 defeat in Melbourne with a dip in the Pacific Ocean at Bronte beach on Sunday and were likely to have a full squad to choose from for Saturday's third test in Sydney.
Even though the series is already lost, the Six Nations champions can still break their four-decade drought since their last win over the Wallabies in Australia at the Sydney Football Stadium.
"You could just sense a huge disappointment, an opportunity definitely missed, but hopefully over the week that will turn into a determination not to leave Australia without a victory in a test match," he said.
"I'm pretty sure we will be going all out for victory, we haven't won on Australian soil in the professional era, since 1969 in fact, and that's a pretty big target to aim for."