Analyst Ross Hamilton looks at the numbers behind quarter-final victory

It seems weird to say, but just looking at what we would normally think of as key stats, the losing teams ‘outplayed’ the winning teams in the Rugby World Cup quarter-finals.

According to rugby analyst Ross Hamilton, that’s exactly what happened.

Look at these startling stats from the quarter-finals, provided by Oval Insights.

quarter-finals attack

When it comes to the attacking stats that we think are really good and help to win games – including ruck speed – the losing teams actually outperformed the winning sides in these cases.

The boxes at the bottom of the graphic above show that all four losing teams made more linebreaks, beat more defenders, made more offloads. Three out of the four teams made more carries, made more metres, had dominant collisions, and had quicker ruck speed. but they lost.

what this points to is that, in the context of each game, the losing sides played really well but just didn’t get the job done. It’s tough attributing numbers to ruthlessness, but what we can see from the key stats is that victory was all about avoiding errors and converting your chances.

That sounds simplistic, but look at this slide.

key stats

All of the four teams who won conceded fewer turnovers, which means a higher number of positive outcomes for their possessions. So the higher percentage of their possessions were ‘complete;. They all kicked more and conceded fewer penalties (okay, Ireland and New Zealand were neck and neck on this stat).

Three out of the four winners had a better ‘red zone efficiency’ (converting chances on visits to the opposition 22), with the outlier being Fiji who did better in this regard than England in their quarter-final.

According to Hamilton: “Some of the differences were stark, I thought. So Ireland of late have been right at the very top of those kind of numbers, for red zone efficency, but 1.5 is really low  – the lowest of the round. New Zealand obviously well over double  that, with 3.67. France were at 1.69 and South Africa 3.71. So those two southern sides were twice as effective in the red zone for taking their chances.

“Why that is important is because, as you can see from the yellow box, above, these matches were decided by the smallest margin ever at a Rugby World Cup (6 points).

“So taking your chances is the biggest thing in rugby at the moment, certainly at this level. You can do all these amazing things – offloads, linebreaks, rapid ruck speed – but it doesn’t count for anything unless you take the chances and put points on the board.”

what do you make of the key stats? Let us know at or on social media. 

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