As a merciful distraction, the spring tour teams to Europe have been announced.
I wondered if they could provide any insight purely by the numbers. Regrettably, with one exception, they don’t. But they do prove something we all know to be true.
Each team has named 32 to 34 players to tour. The average age in each team is the same: 27. The Wallabies average 27 caps, 32 for the Springboks, and 37 All Blacks.
All three teams have between seven and 10 players with more than 50 Tests. The average age for ‘veterans’ (more than 30 Tests) is also similar – 28 to 29 years old. No great insights here.
There are some distinctions between 20 and 50 caps: Wallabies and Boks have nine players, while the All Blacks have fourteen players – demonstrating endurance and depth in the 20 to 50 caps range.
So, what is the correlation between age and caps? The Wallabies have eight players over 28 with an average of 48 caps, the Boks have seventeen players older than 28 with 52 caps average, and the All Blacks have fifteen players with 52 caps average.
The Wallabies’ stats are influenced by older players (Matt Hodgson and Josh Man-Rea with few caps) and when they are excluded, we only have six players older than 28, with an average of 62 caps between them.
Is that a good or a bad thing? Buggered if I know really!
The Wallaby stats look interesting with the younger players: for the seventeen players aged 25 and under, the average is 18 caps. We have plenty of great players in this bracket – Michael Hooper, Nic White, Matt Toomua, Nick Phipps, Israel Folau, Rob Horne, James Slipper and Rob Simmons all have more than the average caps for this age group.
The All Blacks’ future prospect look far better: for players 25 years and under, the average caps is 20 spread across real talent – Sam Cane, Ben and Aaron Smith, Brodie Retallick, Beuden Barrett, Cory Jane, and Aaron Cruden.
What a nursery this is! I’m the first to acknowledge the 25-year cut off is arbitrary, because at 26 years old the All Blacks have Sam Whitelock (60 caps), Owen Franks (63) and Julian Savea (28).
The Boks look like their nursery is in real trouble. While they have thirteen players under 25 in the squad, the average is a very low eight caps, dominated by only three players – Eben Etzebeth, Patrick Lambie and Marcel Coetzee.
And this is really the only distinction I could find: the Boks don’t have enough young players with enough experience; the root-stock has been abandoned. Compare to the New Zealand under 26-year age group. Incomparable really.
I’m inclined to support the hypothesis that the Boks have held on to the same team for far too long. I realise I’m stating the bleeding obvious, but isn’t it nice to have the facts for a change?