Rugby, Rugby History, Rugby World Cup

How to win the Rugby World Cup?

As Rugby World Cup (RWC) 2019 closes in its time to explore what it is going to take to win the hallowed Web Ellis trophy. In this post I am going to look what various bits of data can tell us and see what the experts have to say about the topic. I will unpack the build up and the conditioning, as well as the mindset of a RWC winning team. Finally, which teams embrace these characteristics as a RWC winning team. Lets find out…

1999 Wallbies RWC winning captain John Eales gives his take on what it takes to win a RWC
Video published by World Rugby on YouTube

Preparation

As the famous quote by Benjamin Franklin goes, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” Most of the teams will have been preparing for the world cup since the end of the last world cup. There would have been a lot of introspection and looking at where they went wrong and how they can best improve themselves so that they can be at the top of their game come kick off in Japan. Some teams would have had more time to prepare than others and some will just be happy to have qualified for the tournament. However, every team that is there will have had to have put in some sort of work to realize their goals at this years RWC. Famous rugby coach Eddie Jones wrote this of his preparations with the England side in an article for the Japanese Times, “A well-prepared team can beat a team that’s better physically and athletically. We did that with Japan against South Africa in 2015. If you’re better-prepared tactically, you can beat other teams. When it comes to the World Cup, you have to maximize your resources and that means maximizing your preparation.”

A video highlighting England’s preparations for the RWC.
Video published by England Rugby on YouTube

Experience is key.

In terms of winning a RWC every team that has won a world cup has had one thing in common and that was that they all had a wealth of experience. Previous winners in the professional era of the game have never had lower than 633 total caps in their team. The lowest average number of caps in a team was the Australian winning side of 1999, which averaged 42,20 caps. The highest average number of caps in a World Cup winning side was the New Zealand side that won in 2015 who had an average of 66,40 caps. This is a key thing to highlight as the more familiar players are with the team and the high pressure that test rugby brings the more successful they are likely to be.

Figure showing average number of caps for every RWC winning team since 1999.
Created by Joshua Parsons

What do the stats say?

Any team that has ever won the RWC has won all of their games at the tournament and so if you want win the tournament you should start by aiming for that 100% win record at the tournament. The world rankings mean very little going into a RWC, which will give hope to some of the lower ranked teams, however the only team to have won a RWC and not been ranked number 1 before the start of the tournament was South Africa. Team form between world cups is not a great indicator, which is similar to world rankings. A thing to note from the statistics was that teams that generally did well at the tournament started peaking just before the tournament. Teams that have won the RWC generally have had ad least 5 world class players. This stat tells us that a coach can build a team around 5 players. These players would be in key positions such as hooker, lock, 8th man, and the halfbacks.

THE 1014 RUGBY team analyse the numbers behind winning the RWC
Video published by Spark Sport on YouTube

With all this being said I think that this years RWC is going to be one of the most exciting world cups in world rugby history. This is due to the way that most of the international teams have been playing over the past two years. Most games between top teams are very close and tough to call, which makes it more exciting and thrilling to watch. I think that this world cup will have us on the edge of our seats and there maybe a few upsets on the cards. Ultimately it comes down to more than just numbers, stats and preparation. The key thing is that you have an unbreakable team that is able to stand up and play when it is most important. You need players that have that determination to fight for each other and get over the line. As they say rugby can be a funny game sometimes. At the moment if I were to pick a favorite it would definitely be Wales due to their recent form and the fact that they have managed to beat South Africa consistently over the last 4 year cycle.