Six Nations: All Blacks lock Ali Williams on the north-south divide

By Ali WilliamsFormer New Zealand lock and BBC Sport expert

All four semi-finalists at last year's World Cup came from the southern hemisphere, playing an exciting, open, attacking brand of rugby.

The northern hemisphere teams were unable to live with their fleet-footed rivals from the south. To some critics, the 2016 Six Nations has only served to further underline the size of that schism.

Boring, stale, conservative and stifling - they are just some of the accusations levelled at a tournament obsessed by the need to win.

Having won the World Cup with New Zealand in 2011 but also played in Europe with Nottingham and Toulon, former All Black Ali Williams offers a unique insight into the strengths and weaknesses of the Six Nations.

Mindset, not skillset

North v South
The winners of the last four Six Nations, with the exception of Wales in 2014, have kicked more penalties than tries (66 to 43).
But the winners of the last four Rugby Championships, with the exception of New Zealand in 2012, have scored more tries than penalties (70 to 59).
5 live podcast: The Six Nations 'needs to come alive'

The Six Nations is not a flawed product, it is a fantastic tournament.

It is the product on the field that people are criticising - not the competition, not the crowd, not the commercial side.

I think the Six Nations is methodical rather than intuitive.

The thing I have got out of it living over here and being here for the Six Nations and experiencing the culture, is that the here and now is what people look at.

It is not the skill factor - that is all there, it's the mindset that is the pure difference between the two sides of the world.

Six Nations table

Fear of failure

Wales v France - boring or brilliant?
Wales captain Sam Warburton admitted that his side's win over France was not the most exciting match. "I remember thinking on the pitch 'the fans are going to start a Mexican wave in a minute - it's pretty boring'," he said.
But Wales coach Warren Gatland didn't agree: "I thought it was brilliant. It's what Test rugby is all about. We defended brilliantly in the second half."

If you are too nervous or too scared and fear doing something wrong then you are never going to push yourself.

You are never going to challenge yourself to get better or enhance a skill that doesn't come naturally.

That's what I feel here in the Six Nations. There is a restraint on trying new things. It is a matter of instilling confidence in players to play what you see rather than play how you are coached or play how you think you should play.

I am probably a prime example. I put on an All Black jersey and thought I could do anything because they instilled that confidence in me.

I was doing cross-field kicks from quick taps. I am a second rower. That is not what you should be doing in the manual of rugby but that is now what we do with the All Blacks.

Ali Williams
Lock Ali Williams won the World Cup with New Zealand in 2011

Fit for purpose?

Former Wales scrum-half and BBC Radio 5 live expert Rob Jones
"In the northern hemisphere we are very good at slowing possession down to prevent the opposition playing. We have got very good at that spoiling and that means that we don't see the game that we would like to - the sort that is played in Australia and New Zealand."

The fitness debateexternal-link between the two hemispheres is about match fitness.

The guys I have watched in the Six Nations are fit, don't ever doubt that.

What England coach Eddie Jones is trying to say about fitness is that in the northern hemisphere your game fitness is different because you are playing longer, more physical, slower, mental games rather than your Super Rugby-type of run, run, run, run and the opportunities will open up.

Eddie is saying is why can't we challenge these guys to be fit enough to play a more open expansive game?

Unfortunately you don't get that unless you are doing it that way every week.

Club v country

France captain Guilhem Guirado played 60 minutes for his club five days before a Test match against Wales. That just wouldn't happen with the All Blacks.

It comes back to a collective success and for us, collective success is everyone playing well, All Blacks playing well, club teams playing well but also individuals playing well.

Guilhem Guirado

You are not going to have collective success if you have both got different angles and motivations.

By that I mean club v country. Until they find neutral ground and disagree on some things but yet commit on others, you are always going to have these obstacles.

Are players going to change it? They're not. They can't.

This is a commercial model that needs to look at itself and where they sacrifice some commercial upside but also get better longevity in players and a better product on the field and protect the international game.

Mistakes lead to tries

Warren Gatland is right when he says that as soon as there is a mistake then there is an advantage that could lead to a try.

It doesn't just have to generate off that however. Yes, that is one of the prime opportunities to score tries but the drive should also be when you have got the ball to not fear a mistake and get a try conceded against you, you should try and want to score.

France on Friday night were an example of that and an example of not having a collective understanding of how they want to play together.

Individual flair is one thing but you can't show individual flair if you don't have a collective pattern or understanding of where each other is going to be.

Individual flair is when you have the ball and you are trying to show something on your own; team flair is when you all know what you are doing.

For me that's the frustrating part. If you are saying you are only going to score off mistakes, what are they teaching them in the week?

Northern hemisphere should copy southern hemisphere?

BBC Sport rugby union expert Jeremy Guscott
"The Six Nations is the best competition in the world - people talk about it all year round. The Rugby Championship has to sell itself to get anywhere close. The Six Nations is about winning so the risks taken are less. I would leave it as it is."

I don't agree with the idea that the northern hemisphere needs to copy the southern hemisphere.

I agree with harnessing your own culture and harnessing your own mindset. What does England stand for? What is their mindset?

What does Wales stand for? What is their mindset? Once you have established that, then you play like your mindset.

Tries per game
Information supplied by World Rugby

That is where I think France are potentially going wrong. What does France stand for?

In their mind and their culture, what are they? They know that they have just got to show it on a rugby field. They can do it, we all know it and we all still talk about French flair.

They have got it, they are just going through a stage where they are not showing it to people.

Ali Williams was talking to BBC Sport's Tom Reynolds.

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