How fair is the 2015 Rugby World Cup?

Posted: October 1, 2015 in International Rugby, Rugby, World Cup
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

This year’s world cup was said to have been organised in order to make it the fairest tournament yet. Tier 1 and Tier 2 teams were said to have the same turnaround in terms of days between games and everyone seemed pretty pleased by it. But is it completely fair?

The average turnaround for the top two Tiers is 6.52 days (6.67 days for Tier 1 and 6.37 for Tier 2). This means five full days for planning their next game, with probably the following as a schedule:

  • Day 1: Recovery and rehabilitation.
  • Day 2: Light training, gym work, and further rehabilitation.
  • Day 3. Gym session, intense training (contact session), and recovery.
  • Day 4: Gym session, team meeting, forwards and backs meeting, light session.
  • Day 5: Captain’s run, rehabilitation, and team meeting.
  • Day 6: Game day.

In a world cup, which is as intense a competition as these players will ever play in, this is a dream.

Looking at the numbers further, England and Ireland both enjoy an average turnaround of 7.3 days, whereas Australia, also a Tier 1 country, benefit of an average of 5.3. Scotland and Canada’s rest time mirrors that of Australia. So although it’s been promoted as the fairest tournament yet, Australia’s average rest is on average two days shorter than that of England, a team in Australia’s group. Very fair of the organisers.

The Tier 1 teams of France, New Zealand, South Africa, Australia, and Scotland all face a four day turnaround in the group stages, but let’s look at their opposition:

  • France v Romania
  • New Zealand v Namibia
  • South Africa v USA
  • Australia v Uruguay

With all due respect to the four opponents, they were never going to trouble these Tier 1 teams. France, New Zealand, South Africa and Australia were all capable of fielding what would be seen as “second” teams and still have to skill, composure and structure not only to win, but to win comfortably. You’ll notice that these Tier 1 countries played against Tier 4 or 5 opposition. Fair? Not at all. And this is why.

Five other countries also face or faced a four day turnaround in the group stages: Japan, USA, Uruguay, Romania and Namibia. Uruguay, Romania and Namibia are all Tier 5 countries-they are the lowest seeded teams in the competition so they cannot field a “second” team against stronger opponents, nor do Japan or USA have the strength in depth to do so either. Let’s look at the opposition these teams face/faced after their four day turnaround:

  • Japan v Scotland
  • Uruguay v England
  • Romania v Ireland
  • Namibia v Argentina
  • USA v Japan

These five countries have a mountain to climb. As we saw from Romania versus Ireland and Japan versus Scotland, the turnaround is simply too much for a lower seeded team as the strength in depth that other top Tier teams enjoy is simply not a luxury. To go into further detail, let’s examine Japan, South Africa and Scotland.

The South Africa side to face Japan was the most experienced side in Springbok history. Yet, for their next game against Samoa (seven days later), they could afford to make eight changes to their starting XV. Japan also made eight changes to their starting XV for their game against Scotland (four days later), but to what affect? Every team in that group (bar South Africa) need to play their best XV in each game to have a chance in progressing to the knock-out stages of the competition. Japan made eight changes to the team that miraculously beat South Africa by two points, and four days later they get absolutely trounced by an average Scotland side and lose by 35 points. It’s not difficult to recognise which of the two was Japan’s best side.

Japan’s statistics against South Africa and Scotland

S.A. Scotland
3 Tries 1
370 Metres Gained 352
95 Carries 59
16 Defenders Beaten 12
11 Turnovers 1
3 Line Breaks 3

Against South Africa, Japan scored three tries, made 370 metres through 95 carries, beat 16 defenders, made three line breaks and turned over South African possession eleven times. Against a team like the Springboks, these statistics are heroic for a team like Japan. In theory, an average Scottish team should have been chalked up as a ‘W’ for Japan too. But no. Against Scotland, Japan scored one try, made 352 metres, 59 carries, beat only twelve defenders and turned over Scottish possession just once.

South Africa did not play good rugby that day, but a good team can still win while playing badly. In other words, Japan played brilliantly; they moved the ball quickly and made the Springboks play a much faster game than they would have liked. Scotland turned up the heat against Japan in the second round, but didn’t do anything untoward what the Springboks did. There is something obviously wrong here. A four day turnaround for a team outside the top 10, meaning two consecutive games against top Tiered teams, is not fair. It meant fewer tries, metres gained, carries, and turnovers for a team who had, four days previous, beat one of the contenders to win out the tournament.

Every past world cup triumph comes from the squad, and not the starting XV alone. Teams with the ability to rotate their players and keep their best and most influential players fresh have a much better chance than those teams that don’t. There is no real coaching science behind this, it is just common sense. Teams like New Zealand, South Africa and Australia can face a four day turnaround and still expect their “second” team to complete the objective-win the game. Teams like Ireland can afford to play fringe players against Romania. But can the USA afford to put their best XV on the pitch against South Africa and hope their fringe players can beat the likes of Samoa and Scotland? Absolutely not.

The fixture list of this world cup is perfect if you are from a Tier one or Tier 2 country. If not, your team were facing an uphill battle before the tournament began.

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