30.08.19

BLOG: Rugby World Cup 2019 – an analytical comparison of the leading contenders

Article by Nick Bentley

Key takeaways

– Compared to the 2019 Six Nations, the teams who competed in this year’s Rugby Championship committed over 25% more clean breaks on average per game.

– However the Six Nations teams recorded an average 82% success rate in tackles, eight percentage points higher than their southern hemisphere counterparts.

– England’s Owen Farrell is particularly impressive with clutch kicks from the sidelines. His Six Nations record included six successful attempts out of six from the right-hand touchline.

 

The 2019 Rugby World Cup is almost upon us, with just over a week of warm-up matches remaining ahead of the kick off in Japan at the end of September.

Teams from each of the hemispheres will be confident they have every chance of lifting the trophy, with contenders coming from all corners. The most likely place to find a winner will be from amongst the 10 teams that compete in the Six Nations and The Rugby Championship each year, with both competitions having thrown up curveballs in their most recent iteration.

South Africa are coming into this tournament on their back of their first triumph at The Rugby Championship since it was just a three-team tournament back in 2009, while Wales will continue to be buoyed by a Grand Slam victory at the 2019 Six Nations earlier in the year – the first time they had completed the slam since 2013.

How do the two regional tournaments compare though? Let’s dig a little deeper and find out.

Breaking the defensive line

The Rugby Championship and Six Nations in 2019 both saw a relatively equal amount of points scored per game, with the southern hemisphere’s 46.3 points per game pipping the Six Nations’ average.

There is a clear distinction in the attitude of how the teams in each competition went about racking up those points, though.

The four teams in the Rugby Championship provided a game average of 24.7 clean breaks and 50.7 defenders beaten in the 2019 iteration, more than the Six Nations in its respective tournament. Indeed, there were nearly seven more clean breaks per game in The Rugby Championship 2019 than there were in Six Nations 2019 despite there being more carries per game in the northern hemisphere tournament.

The ability to win without the ball may come more naturally to the Six Nations teams judging by the recent tournaments. There were nearly 60 more tackles per game in the 2019 Six Nations than in The Rugby Championship 2019, however both major tournaments this year saw the champions average less time in possession of the ball than any other team in action (Wales 17m8s, South Africa 16m19s).

Not only was the quantity of tackling much higher, but the quality followed suit as well. The Six Nations teams tackled at an impressive success rate of 82% in 2019, eight percentage points higher than that of the figure managed by their Rugby Championship counterparts.

Both competitions saw an average winning margin of 14 points per game in 2019, with there being only two games in each tournament decided by a margin of seven points or fewer – a fact which lends to the tightness of The Rugby Championship given there were only six games played this year compared to the 15 games played in Six Nations.

England’s goal kicking asset

England and South Africa will be two teams who won’t be fazed should the game come down to the wire at the Rugby World Cup 2019. England’s Owen Farrell (23/28) and South Africa’s Handre Pollard (12/15) were the premier goal kickers in their respective major competitions in 2019, kicking more goals than any other players in each.

Farrell was particularly impressive with clutch kicks from the sidelines as can be seen in the above pitch graphic. Indeed, from the right hand sideline he was successful with six goals from six attempts. Comparatively, Pollard had very little to do with sideline goal kicking during The Rugby Championship 2019, but proved he could hit them from all over the park nonetheless.

Goal kicking has been an area where this year’s Rugby World Cup hosts Japan have excelled in recent games. The Brave Blossoms have kicked 13 goals from as many attempts in their last two Tests against Tonga and the United States of America.

In fact, Japan fly-half Yu Tamura – who has kicked all of those 13 goals – is quickly rising up the ranks of the most prolific point scorers in Test history for Japan. He is currently ranked seventh with a tally of 218, but with a strong showing in Japan’s final warm-up game against South Africa and in the Rugby World Cup he could potentially eclipse James Arlidge (286) and Hirotoki Onozawa (275) by competition’s end.

Performing in northern hemisphere conditions

Japan is geographically in both the northern and eastern hemispheres, it will be the first ever Rugby World Cup in Asia. Climate and unfamiliar surroundings haven’t stopped the southern hemisphere triumvirate of Australia (2), South Africa (1) and New Zealand (1) from winning each of the four previous Rugby World Cups to take place in the northern hemisphere. However, bar the most recent such edition in 2015 (New Zealand v Australia in England) each of the three previous Rugby World Cup Finals in the northern hemisphere featured representation from the north (England in 1991 and 2007, France in 1999).

Examining the most recent Rugby World Cup in England in 2015 showed while the northern hemisphere teams found the conditions more conducive to their defensive structures, set-piece and goalkicking the southern hemisphere’s penchant for a more attacking style of rugby stood tall. Ireland had the best tackle success rate (89%), lineout success rate (98%) and ruck success rate (97%) of any team at the Rugby World Cup 2015 while also disproving the perception northern hemisphere sides don’t like to throw the ball around; they averaged the most passes per-game (192) of any team, seven more than the next best side.

Italy (144) and Scotland (142) averaged the most tackles per-game of any team at the Rugby World Cup 2015, Scotland also averaging the most penalty goals per-game (4) of any team at the tournament. Despite this penchant for penalty goals Scotland didn’t have the best goal-kicking success rate at Rugby World Cup 2015, that title went to another of their Six Nations peers in Wales (90%). What Scotland did have at the tournament was an incredibly tough side to break down, their opposition averaged the fewest scrum wins (4), lineout wins (8) and turnovers (5) per-game at Rugby World Cup 2019.

Creating try scoring opportunities

New Zealand finished top of the pile at Rugby World Cup 2015 and deservedly so. The All Blacks averaged 41 points per-game, the most of any team while another southern hemisphere side in Argentina (36 points per-game) were the only other nation to average more than 35.

The All Blacks averaged six tries scored per-game at the tournament, the most of any team and two ahead of a chasing pack in joint-second comprising of Australia, England, Argentina, South Africa and Ireland (4 tries per-game). The Pumas of Argentina proved to be the toughest team to bring down, having averaged the most metres gained (631), defenders beaten (33) and offloads (15) per-game of any side at Rugby World Cup 2015. Fiji found themselves in the unique situation at Rugby World Cup 2015 of having averaged the most turnovers won (11) and turnovers conceded (19) per-game of any team at the tournament.

The perception that the southern hemisphere style of rugby is more geared towards creating try scoring opportunities is perhaps best exemplified by the fact five of the top six try scorers at Rugby World Cup 2015 came from The Rugby Championship.

South Africa and Wales have already broken long-standing trophy draughts this year in The Rugby Championship and Six Nations respectively. Australia were able to record their joint-biggest ever winning margin against New Zealand in Perth (10/08/2019). The All Blacks retaining the Rugby World Cup for a record third successive time is by no means a sure thing, with a line of potential usurpers coming into the 2019 edition in form and with confidence on their side.

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