I read a comment on one of The Rugby Blog’s articles last week which mentioned hoping that France, New Zealand and England didn’t all win their quarter finals. The reason for this wish was due to the extra week of rest that those nations had had prior to their first knock-out games in the wake of the typhoon. I didn’t read too much into it at the time as I didn’t think it would make a huge difference and I thought that every team would react differently – some may be undercooked whilst others may come back fresh and raring to go. Anyway, France are now out, proving that the cancellation of games had no impact at all.
Or did it? In all the games involving those teams, the percentage of successful tackles favoured the team who had the extra week to recover. Admittedly, you can adapt stats to suit your point, but this is a surprising one however you look at it.
This is particularly noticeable when you look at the overall number of tackles England had to make (193) compared to Australia (86). The men in white were evidently able to make more telling contributions when they actually had the ball than the Wallabies were and the tackles were more effective. The Australians attacked and attacked and attacked, with very little in the way of material reward on the scoreboard.
New Zealand and Ireland had to make a very similar number of tackles, but the percentages were hugely different. This could have been because of the suffocating line speed of the Kiwis or the ballast with which they carried. Ireland may not have had the ball carriers that their opposition did, but a suffocating defence is not something they usually lack and for them to fall off as many tackles as they did could suggest that the tanks of both teams were filled to very different levels.
As for Wales against the French, the stats were more even (as the scoreboard would suggest) so we can only use what we saw. There was no way that this French team should have been as close as they were to putting the Welsh away. They played with far more fluency and pace and looked far less leggy, even when they were reduced to fourteen men. Ordinarily, that may have resulted in a tired French implosion. Not on Sunday – they did themselves proud, but I can’t help but feel that if they’d played England the week before, they’d have looked to have far less verve than they did.
I’d love to make a similar case for why the Japanese were smothered out of the game, but both teams have played their full fixture list so I’ll just have to say that the South Africans did amazingly well in the second half to stifle Japan’s game. However, they have gone down as heroes.
Those cancellations do have that lingering feeling that they may have affected the World Cup in some way, but we will never know the truth in that and it’s all hypothetical.
Anyway, in mitigation, there could have been any number of reasons for those results. The teams that have made the last four are well-drilled, powerful and tactically astute. We have the best four teams in the world contesting what should absolutely be some cracking semi-finals. Regardless of that niggle in the back of my mind, I cannot wait.
By Joe Large