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The stats that reveal why Wallabies drowned in the Rugby World Cup pool for the first time

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Expert
30th September, 2023
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With the Wallabies done but for a miracle, the numbers in the three first games are illustrative of why the campaign failed.

The Experience Gap

Wales ran on the pristine pitch at Lyon with eleven players having Rugby World Cup knockout experience. All of those had won a knockout. Six of them played in do-or-die Lions matches. Fiji beat Australia with a team sporting eight prior World Cup participants. The Wallabies had six RWC veterans in this campaign; five by the time of the big contests.

Even the French, the team Eddie Jones’ apologists cite as a model, have more Cup experience than the Wallabies; South Africa has over fifteen, Argentina thirteen, England and New Zealand eleven. Scotland has nine RWC returners. Experience matters in life and in rugby’s biggest challenge.

What the Wallabies Did

Through the first three rounds, there was only one team that played wider than second receiver less than the Wallabies (3.6%): Romania (2.2%). Ireland did it six times more than Australia, New Zealand four times; even the pragmatic Springboks got it to Jesse Kriel twice as much as Jordan Petaia got it. Indeed, the Boks played wider than ten metres 59.1% of the time; the Wallabies ten percent less. Eddie Jones’ team was among the six tightest teams (they only went wide 6.6% of the time) along with Wales and Argentina.

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The Wallabies have finished 26.6% of line breaks in a try, compared to leaders France (51.6%), Ireland (50%) and South Africa (49.9%). Even England, who by 2022 had lost the ability to score tries against anyone except Italy, have finished 45.9% of breaks with a try. Part of that is a low tackle evasion rate (20.9%), again in the bottom six teams with Namibia and Uruguay.

Instead, gainline was the focus with the Wallabies going into contact and winning 55% of collisions (top five, along with the All Blacks, Ireland, the Boks, and Italy). It was what happened next, after the second phase, which did not work. The Wallaby lineout, one horror show excluded, has functioned at 88.4% (top five, ahead of South Africa and England), but steered away from the middle (only 23.2% of throws went to the heart of the lineout; only Tonga and Uruguay were lower).

The Wallaby scrum has been serviceable: 94.5% success (top five) and a 22.2% penalty win rate (top four); better than the Boks. The maul has only harvested 14 metres a game (England’s won 26 a match; Wales 24). Tackling was poor, with the Wallabies’ success only better than Namibia, Romania, Tonga, Samoa, and Fiji. Exits were top five (92.6%) with 58% kicked and 42% carried out.

Who Did What?

Rob Valetini, Marika Koroibete, Tom Hooper and Mark Nawaqanitawase played all 240 minutes of the first three rounds. Two of them, Valetini and Nawaqanitawase, led the carry count (30) along with Samu Kerevi. Valetini carried 29 of 30 times into contact; Kerevi 28. They were the ruck setters, the targets; with Angus Bell (23 of 23 carries into contact). Nawaqanitawase was the most elusive heavy carrier (evading contact 7 times); Ben Donaldson was far less busy as a carrier but also was evasive (62.5% of the time he was not tackled with the ball).

LYON, FRANCE – SEPTEMBER 24: Mark Nawaqanitawase, Ben Donaldson and Marika Koroibete of Australia line up during the National Anthems prior to the Rugby World Cup France 2023 match between Wales and Australia at Parc Olympique on September 24, 2023 in Lyon, France. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

Jordan Petaia was the best of the Wallabies with ten or more carries at winning the gainline (93.8% of the time). Next best was Fraser McReight (83.3%). Richie Arnold attended 56 rucks but was ineffective 16% of the time: the only Wallabies less effective were three backs (Andrew Kellaway, Suli Vunivalu, and Kerevi).

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Will Skelton got to 15 rucks before he was injured; effective at all 15. Most effective for volume: McReight (49 rucks; 96% effective). In the forwards, Nick Frost was particularly ineffective as a carrier (making the gainline only 42.9% of the time) and Koroibete suffered from not having a playmaking thirteen next to him, making the gainline less than half the time.

Tom Hooper attempted the most tackles (32) but was not convincing in force or success at this level. He likely needs more dynamism and learn to accelerate into contact. McReight and Valetini were the best busy tacklers (both well over 90%), with the big Brumby number eight dominant in 25.9% of his tackles. McReight worked hard, but had the same number of steals as Skelton in far more minutes.

Koroibete, Carter Gordon, and Petaia all missed far too many tackles; Hooper and Gordon were passive in their tackles (only 7 and 6 percent “dominant”). All of this led to just six pool table points and an early exit unless some shock saves the Wallabies.

With thirteen Tests on offer before the Lions visit, likely coaching changes, and a murderous trio of opponents in half of those Tests, there is little time to fix the issues, but the time to start is now.

Thank you to @OptaJonny of OptaAnalyst for the statistics in this article

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