Analyst Ross Hamilton looks at how the team set up, with help from Oval Insights

“When looking at how the losing sides ‘outplayed’ the winners, one thing stood out in the stats about England,” says analyst Ross Hamilton. “Actually England are really well set up here to play against South Africa.”

The Springboks are the bookies favourite to win this whole tournament. For good reason. But there is one tactical area that presents an opportunity in the upcoming Rugby World Cup semi-final.

Look at the graphic that Hamilton has put together, with the help of stats from Oval Insights.

England set up

(Stats via Oval Insights)

In a like-for-like comparison, England have conceded fewer turnover. This will lend itself to a higher number of ‘positive outcomes’ generally. But England also get rid of the ball far more often.

England have made more kicks in-play than anyone else in the competition. Around two thirds of all of their possession, ball-in-hand, ends up being kicked away. They want you to have it, or to restart with it. It’s their percentage plays – if you make errors, England can capitalise.

England set-up analysed

As Hamilton says of the England set-up: “That pragmatic, risk avoidant style of play from England, whilst it is boring and hasn’t really done much for them so far, might be the answer to winning knockout games.”

The big difference Hamilton sees between England and South Africa, is in killing off try-scoring opportunities. England had a red zone success of just 31%, he says, while South Africa sit at 41%. So the Boks are significantly better at getting over the line when they break into your 22.

England do kick more points from outside the 22 than South Africa do, he adds, and that “made up the difference” previously.

However, it’s also worth looking at where South Africa score tries from and how quickly they do it.

England set-up

France’s defence swarms against South Africa (Getty Images)

They have scored 15 tries directly from set-piece – fourth-most in the tournament for this stat. However, England have done really well in defending from set-piece so far this World Cup. Scrums are seen as a real strength for the Boks, but it’s also about the strike after. England have conceded just once from first-phase strikes.

This is where the clash in styles is interesting. It’s been some time since England played a team like South Africa, and the team in green have scored 13 ties from first-phase attack. That’s second for this stat, behind New Zealand. As a ratio, that is also 50% of South Africa’s tries come from first-phase attack – they love scoring early.

“They have gone multiple passages where they’ve played lots of phases, but they don’t score,” says Hamilton. “So only two out of 26 of their tries have been in six or more phases.”

England, as well as only conceding one first-phase try, also lead this World Cup for forcing their opponents to go through the most average phases before scoring, with 8.2 phases.

The pressing question for this England set-up is: Can they force South Africa to play far more, for far longer, in order to break them down?

South Africa are a cut above what England have faced so far in this tournament, and have themselves come through matches agaist high-ranking sides. But in this regard, Hamilton believes, there is a roadmap of how best to challenge them.

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