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Opinion

The best of the Rugby World Cup: Part 3

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Roar Guru
9th June, 2020
19

If this is the first article in the series you have read, then I suggest checking on the first two before proceeding!

You can read part 1 here and part 2 here.

A whole week spent in a wardrobe. Should have scraped the mushrooms growing off the top of the peaches prior to consuming. At least it was a COVID week gone quick, although it’s hard to explain to the distraught family and missing persons that I had been on a rugby tour in Narnia!

But let’s put front row centaurs aside and turn to the subject matter at hand.

The professional years: 2011-2019

Crouch, touch, pause, engage. It could be the phases of rugby fandom. Just when you are feeling disillusioned and disconnected from rugby along comes the World Cup with all its glory and drama to ‘engage’ and drag you back in.

If the rugby didn’t entertain you, then the sideline attractions of (standard) French player mutiny – ‘dwarfgate’, ‘harbourgate’ and any other ‘gate’ – did. We also saw a return to the winners circle of a more pragmatic New Zealand and a first-time hosting in a non-Tier 1 location, Japan. A truly electric event that, random red card mania aside, breathed some much-needed life back into the sport.

Winners
New Zealand: 2011, 2015
South Africa: 2019

Country Total score Appearances Aggregate Avg place
New Zealand 5 3 1.7 Final
South Africa 12 3 4.0 Quarter-finals
Australia 13 3 4.3 Quarter-finals
Wales 16 3 5.3 Quarter-finals
France 18 3 6.0 Quarter-finals
Ireland 24 3 8.0 Quarter-finals
England 26 3 8.7 Pool
Argentina 28 3 9.3 Pool
Scotland 40 3 13.3 Pool
Japan 44 3 14.7 Pool
Fiji 48 3 16.0 Pool
Italy 48 3 16.0 Pool
Samoa 48 3 16.0 Pool
Tonga 48 3 16.0 Pool
Georgia 48 3 16.0 Pool
Romania 36 2 18.0 Pool
Canada 56 3 18.7 Pool
Namibia 56 3 18.7 Pool
United States 56 3 18.7 Pool
Uruguay 40 2 20.0 Last
Russia 40 2 20.0 Last
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New Zealand with two titles are head and shoulders above the crowd. The darkness after a lengthy period of introspection, team rotations, strategy and selection errors and they finally shake the monkey off with a nervy win at home against old nemesis France. They then doubled down four years later in a far more dominant fashion before being unexpectedly usurped by England in the 2019 quarters.

The points gap between first and second shows just how dominant New Zealand have been. It also demonstrates how inconsistent the rest of the pack have been. South Africa (first, third, quarter-finals) and Australia (second, third, quarter-finals) are the front of the peloton that also includes Wales and France.

The big surprise is the ascension of Wales to be the leading light from the northern hemisphere – though perhaps it’s not such a surprise when it also coincides with the Warren Gatland coaching era and its numerous Six Nations titles and short stop at the top of the global rankings.

Risers and fallers

Country Semi-pro to pro
Ireland 5.33
Wales 5.33
Japan 4.00
New Zealand 3.33
Tonga 1.33
Namibia 1.33
Italy 1.33
United States 0.00
South Africa 0.00
Samoa 0.00
Argentina -0.33
Australia -0.67
Canada -1.33
Romania -2.00
Fiji -2.67
France -2.67
Uruguay -4.00
England -5.00
Scotland -5.33

While Ireland shows a large improvement, its significance is less impressive for a country that has reached the pinnacle of the world rankings but has still not managed to advance past the quarter-finals. They were hammered by Wales in 2011, Argentina (again) in 2015 and New Zealand in 2019.

The big winners are really Wales and Japan. The Welsh made the semi-finals twice and were a Warburton red card away from a final in 2015. Never to forget a favour, France paid it back in 2019. Such gentlemen.

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As for Japan, an incredible first visit to the quarters at their home event, topping the pool by beating Scotland and Six Nations champions Ireland along the way. Further icing on their Brighton cake!

On the other side of the northern hemisphere coin, abject performances at their home event and quarter-finals exit in 2011 see England fall hard. Scotland’s diminishing returns at each event are also laid bare.

Ireland's Josh van der Flier, left, and Ireland's Bundee Aki embrace.

(AP/Peter Morrison)

North versus south
The overall gap pretty much remains constant between both sides of the globe.

All Total score Appearances Aggregate Avg place
North 364 29 12.6 Pool
South 298 26 11.5 Pool

In the Tier 1 nations, the north remain fairly consistent due to fall of England and rise of Wales. The South gain 0.8 points due to the improvement of Argentina.

Tier 1 Total score Appearances Aggregate Avg place
North 172 18 9.6 Pool
South 58 12 4.8 Quarter-finals

Across the Tier 2 nations the south slides back due to the ongoing struggles of Samoa and the fall of Fiji. They’re still good enough, however, to overcome the gallant charge of Russia and Georgia.

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Tier 2 Total score Appearances Aggregate Avg place
North 192 11 17.5 Pool
South 240 14 17.1 Pool

That rounds out the professional era.

Best performing nation
Those beached as long white cloud wizards, the magnificent multifaceted Sir Richie McCaw-led All Blacks.

Most improved
The triple Six Nations champions Wales.

Hemisphere of champions
Yawn – southern hemisphere again across all tiers.

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Best fans
Has to be the Japanese with their adoption and turnout for visiting teams.

In the final part of the series I’ll look at the overall leader board, the trends across all events and crown the best team of the world cups.