Speaker by Various Artists


God is in the numbers

by Foreign Field 4

Monday the papers were full of praise for the All Blacks. Highest points scorers ever (309) almost 100 points ahead of Australia (215). New Zealand also ran in a record 46 tries, 16 more than the Aussies.

Of course these are things you can glean for yourself just by looking at the points table.
Other stats easily viewable but not reported include:
• Fiji was outscored 114 for to 136 against and made it through to the quarterfinals
• New Zealand had the best points differential with 274, again 100 points clear of the Aussies
• Of the four pools, five teams didn’t win a game (USA, Japan, Canada, Portugal, Namiba)
• Canada and Namibia were the only teams not to earn a bonus point.

But as we say, these are easy stats. So let’s make it harder.

After extensively trolling the internet we constructed ourselves a data set from which we gleaned the following moderately interesting stats:
• Number of games won by the team with the least possession: 12
• Number of games won by a team trailing at the 60 min mark: 1 (Romania over Portugal)
• Least amount of total time spent in the opposition 22 during a game: 22 seconds (Canada against Australia)
• Team that spent the least amount of time in the opposition 22 (summed across all games): Tonga – 12 mins 29 seconds.

It's a trainspotter's delight out there, if you know where to look.

So now down to the serious business. How do the All Blacks stack up against the other teams in the Quarters, in the places it counts? We've compiled stats about gameplay, and broken the important stuff down into four main areas, Possession and Handling, Scrums, Kicking and Lineouts, and Defence.

And we're thinking it does not tell a positive picture.

Possession and Handling

We know that New Zealand has been making handling errors. We made the most in fact: 58 in total (followed by Romania and Scotland on 49). But you'd argue that this was because we had the ball more often right? Our average possession was a very average 54% (France had the most at 60%), so that means we were bound to have more handling errors?

TeamAverage Possession %
New Zealand54%
South Africa48%

Well, you'd be right. We mishandled about as much as the other major teams, per minute of possession that is. New Zealand’s rate of handling errors per minute of possession is 0.3, too large a number to be discounted. In practical terms, that means on average for every three minutes it holds it the ball New Zealand will mishandle it at least once. In comparison, France will only mishandle once every five minutes.

Comparing the handling error rate of all teams in the quarters, we are, in fact, among the worst.

TeamHandling Errors, per Minute of Possession
New Zealand0.34
South Africa0.27

Hopefully our large number of tries should balance this poor ball handling out, right? After all, our rate of tries per minute of possession was 0.27! The next down was South Africa on 0.16. But we think relying on this number is just being optimistic.

TeamTries, per Minute of Possession
New Zealand0.27
South Africa0.16


We're concerned because, what happens after a handling error? That’s right, a scrum, so perhaps we can counter our poor handling by winning scrums against the head. Unfortunately, the All Blacks have only won 7% of opposition scrums, while the much-maligned Australian scrum is winning 16%. Still the All Blacks can take some heart that in one game they packed down against the best scrum at the rugby world cup: Italy.

No really, Italy.

The Italian scrum won 97% of its own put ins (equal with England) and 22% of the opposition’s put ins. This awesome scrum power is the reason Italy is also the second team most likely to win back the ball after a handling error. Italy recovered the ball 18% of the time behind the awesome might of England with 23%.

But, when comparing our rate of winning against the head with other quarterfinalists, we're faring poorly.

TeamScrums Won (%)Scrums Won Against the Head (%)
South Africa90%10%
New Zealand92%7%

Kick it or Run it?

Still, as we know the game is often won through the boot not the scrum, so how’s our kicking? Well we have an accuracy of 76% for place kicks (penalties and conversions). This is better than our biggest rivals, Australia has 67% and South Africa 73%, but nowhere near as good as Scotland (100%!!!)

If we decide to kick for touch rather than take the points we win 95% of our lineouts. Nice. But if it’s our opponent’s lineout we’ve got a meagre 18% chance of getting it off them. Unfortunately our southern cousins are much better at snaffling the lineout than we are, with Australia and South Africa winning 34% and 30% of opposition lineouts respectively. Here's the table.

TeamLineouts Won (%)Opposition Lineouts Won (%)
South Africa91%30%
New Zealand95%18%


Ok, ok. No need to panic. “Defence wins championships” and we’ve got the best defence right?

Our tackling percentage (tackles made divided by tackles attempted) is 90%. That’s pretty good. Of course... Australia’s is 94% and France have 91%.

TeamSuccessful Tackle (%)Turnover per Tackle (%)
New Zealand90%8%
South Africa85%7%

But we do have the edge in the most important stat: turnovers. 8% of all successful tackles result in a turnover, and we have a high ratio of turnovers lost to turnovers gained (We have lost the ball 15 times and gained it 23 giving us a ratio of 1.5).

Once again though, we're outpaced by the Aussies who have a ratio of 1.8 the second best behind the monsters of Tonga (2.9, they got the ball 23 times and only lost it 8). South Africa are on 1.7.

But hey! Don’t look glum! We still scored lots of tries in our pool of minnows.

The Dropkicks

Some Foreign Field is sponsored by Whisky Galore

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