IRB published a statistical analysis of the 2014 Junior World Rugby Trophy. Japan, Tonga, the USA, Uruguay, Georgia, Namibia, Canada and Hong Kong sent teams to the tournament.
I write this review so that you don’t have to; I was primarily in search of truths that might translate to the senior level of rugby union.
Japan won the most games with three, and Hong Kong was winless.
I found other statistics more intriguing.
Tries in the JWRT tended to come more from lineouts than any other source: 36 per cent. This was about twice the number that flowed from scrums. The much-maligned tap-penalty led to quite a few tries, too – 20 in total.
A third of tries came without a pass involved. A third required no ruck or maul (but more commonly, a try involved two ruck phases and about two to three passes).
The kids found it very difficult to score a try if starting from inside their own half – only 12.5 per cent of tries were scored from that long range. In total 61 per cent of tries came from within the 22-metre area.
Possession advantage is not crucial it seems. Overall 40 per cent of the time the team that had the ball less, still won. In contrast, in only two matches did the team that scored fewer tries win.
The ball remained in play an average of 39 per cent of the games, or 31:16 minutes in total.
The top two teams (Japan and Tonga) scored the most tries, kicked the fewest penalty goals and kicked sparingly out of hand, and neither were good at defending their own try-lines, but other facets of their style and shape diverged.
Japan conceded the fewest penalty goals, while Tonga was the most penalised. Tonga was carded six times in four matches.
Japan’s forwards passed rarely, relying more on ruck retention with 166 in one match alone. They also relied on the scrumhalf passing to big runners, while Tonga’s forwards passed more than any other pack in the competition.
Interestingly, despite winning overall, Japan’s scrum was not very good. It was the most penalised and most collapsed. Namibia had the best scrum, but kicked too much ball away: 22 times per match, compared to Japan’s 12.
Hong Kong won the wooden spoon despite having the best lineout (12 steals) and restarts. They simply could not defend well enough in general play and gave up 16 tries – a try every four minutes the ball was in play.
Canada also struggled, with a game plan that featured too much passing for their skill level. In contrast, Japan also chose prolific passing, but it worked.
In general, the young lads had high success at restarts: 31 per cent. The USA regained 5 of 12, even though they kicked long every time.
Japan played a high (58%) possession style, but so did Canada, who passed 176 times a match. Unlike Japan, it did not work for Canada. Japan had to do well at rucks and they did – 95% retention versus 89% by Georgia and Hong Kong, respectively.
Tonga did well with a minority-possession, hard-running plan with only 75 passes per match, but this did not work for Uruguay.
Hong Kong had 50 per cent of the possession, but tackled poorly.
Penalties come predominantly at the tackle area and rucks. Scrum penalties were a fifth of all infringements.
Ok, with all this in mind, what can we gather from these stats? What does it say for the next rugby generation?