TOKYO, 15 Oct – After four intense weeks of competition, the quarter-finals of Rugby World Cup 2019 are upon us. Here our stats team take a look at the key statistical trends that have emerged from the pool stage and evaluate what this could mean for some of the heavyweight encounters ahead.
How do you solve a problem like New Zealand?
Heading into this World Cup, there were murmurs that the All Blacks were looking unusually vulnerable, their aura of invincibility tarnished by a string of sub-par performances, which culminated in a heavy Rugby Championship defeat by Australia in mid-August.
But over the course of three pool-stage matches, the question marks have steadily receded and they go into the game against Ireland as clear favourites. The 1987, 2011 and 2015 champions appear to be peaking at the right time. New Zealand are supreme for almost all of the main attacking metrics, although two of their three matches were against Tier 2 opponents Namibia and Canada.
With their lightning transition from defence to attack, the All Blacks rank top for metres gained, clean breaks and defenders beaten, and, unsurprisingly, have completed more offloads than any other team.
Worryingly for Ireland, the All Blacks are the only team left to boast a 100 per cent scrum success record, while their kickers have the highest conversion percentage (84 per cent) of any of the quarter-finalists.
But there are aspects of their game Ireland can call on to improve their chances. For starters, this match pits the most lethal attacking force against the tournament’s most miserly defence. When Ireland recorded their historic 16-9 win over New Zealand last November, above, they defended as though their lives depended on it and they could again prove tricky to break down.
Despite being in arguably the toughest pool, Ireland have only conceded two tries, and have the best tackle success percentage of any team at the World Cup. What is more, no side has missed fewer tackles.
In addition, the Springboks exposed a handful of weaknesses in the All Blacks in their opening weekend clash, most notably at the lineout where they managed to exert huge pressure.
New Zealand have the lowest lineout success rate of any of the teams left in the competition, although at 90 per cent, this is still very high. The lineout was an area Ireland exploited to the full when they beat New Zealand last year, and it will be very much in their plans as they prepare for Saturday’s clash.
Kicking holds key to Welsh success
The pool stages were a mixed bag for Wales, going from the high of their brilliant win over Australia to mixed displays against Fiji and Uruguay. In particular, Wales looked vulnerable defensively at times and the stats show that they have missed more tackles than any of the eight teams left in the tournament.
Welsh handling was poor at times against Uruguay and they repeatedly squandered opportunities, making 16 handling errors compared to just six in their clinical display against Australia. Wales know they will need to improve on this against France, but one area they can be confident in is their kicking.
In Dan Biggar, Leigh Halfpenny and Rhys Patchell, below, Wales have one of the most reliable kicking trios in the game. They have the second-best conversion record (83 per cent) of all the quarter-finalists, just behind New Zealand, and that could go a long way to helping them past France.
Wallabies living dangerously
In most previous World Cup clashes between England and Australia, the scrum has been absolutely crucial. The dominant English forwards bullied the Wallabies into submission in the 2007 quarter-finals, while Australia returned the favour as they knocked England out of their own World Cup four years ago.
This time around, the scrum may be an area of concern for the Wallabies rather than a strength. They ranked 15th out of the 20 nations for scrum success rate during the pool stages and the Wallabies have also struggled with poor discipline. Of the eight quarter-finalists, no team has received more yellow cards so far than Australia, and only France have conceded more penalties.
The Wallabies know they will need to tighten up considerably if they are to reach another World Cup semi-final.