RWC 2015: Tier 2 nations closing the gap

(Other) Wednesday 14 December 2011
 
RWC 2015: Tier 2 nations closing the gap
Georgia were one nation to show improvement on the RWC 2011 stage

According to the IRB's analysis of Rugby World Cup 2011, international rugby’s big guns should be looking over their shoulders in four years’ time – the Tier 2 countries are closing the gap. 

The IRB Game Analysis Unit recently completed a comprehensive report into what Rugby World Cup 2011 told us about the development and progress of the sport. And while there are a whole host of interesting insights in the report, perhaps the most telling statistics are the ones that show the continuing improvement of the Tier 2 nations.

Here are four key factors that reinforce the notion that RWC 2015 will be the most competitive World Cup yet.

EARLY PROMISE

A comparison of the opening set of pool matches from the last three Rugby World Cups paints a very clear picture. In 2003, there were six matches between Tier 1 and Tier 2 sides in the first week, which finished with an average points difference of 45.

In the opening stages of the 2007 tournament, there were another six Tier 1 vs Tier 2 games, which resulted in a very similar points difference of 41. However at RWC 2011, the points difference of the first four matches between the two tiers had dropped to just 20, a massive 21 points lower than four years previously.

STAYING POWER

A closer look at that point difference reveals even more encouraging news for the developing countries. In those opening four matches between Tier 1 and Tier 2 teams at RWC 2011, the average difference at full-time was 20 points.

But crucially, at 60 minutes, it was 15 points – and at 70 minutes, it stood at 16 points. The key factor here? Unlike in the past, the Tier 1 sides did not pull away from the Tier 2 sides at the end of matches, showing that fitness levels are improving.

SCHEDULE ADJUSTMENT

The problem for the Tier 2 sides was maintaining this level. All the statistics above refer to their first matches of the tournament. For Tier 2 teams, their second matches saw the average margin of defeat increase to 52 points, and overall, the average points difference in Tier 1 v Tier 2 nations barely changed from previous RWCs.

Clearly the ability to challenge the top sides is increasing, but putting that into practice on a regular basis is difficult. The good news is that an agreement is already in place which will mean a fairer fixture list at RWC 2015, which should give the Tier 2 sides a better chance of competing in their subsequent pool matches, not just the opener.

IMPROVING DEFENCE

Simply put, the cricket scores we saw even in recent tournaments now seem to be a thing of the past. The highest team score at RWC 2011 was the 87 points racked up by South Africa against Namibia. At RWC 2007, there were three scores level or higher than that effort. And in 2003, there were four matches that saw bigger scores, including Australia’s 142 points against Namibia. It seems the days of three-figure scores are over.

Roll on Rugby World Cup 2015.