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Analysis: New Caps Since 2015 Offer Insight Into Teams’ World Cup Preparations

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A breakdown of the number of new caps for each tier one nation since Rugby World Cup 2015 shows us a lot about the cycles of development that are going on across the world right now.

With the rugby globe well into its four year cycle before the next edition of the tournament, the breakdown of new caps released by the BBC reveals a lot about how countries are moving on from 2015.

It’s long been a criticism of the Gatland era of Welsh rugby that the coaches tend to rely on the same old heads and don’t look to new players to take the team forward. Given the Wales side has only capped three new players since 2015, you might start to think there is something in that accusation.

But match up this data to the average age of the countries’ World Cup squads and the average number of caps and it starts to reveal some very interesting comparisons.

Nation Average age of squad at World Cup 2015 Average number of caps at World Cup 2015 New caps since the end of the tournament
Argentina 26.5 39 26
France 28.4 32 23
Italy 27.6 38 20
Ireland 28.2 34 19
Australia 27.3 41 13
England 26.2 25 12
South Africa 28.2 42 12
New Zealand 28.2 48 11
Scotland 26.6 23 7
Wales 26.3 34 3

Source: The Telegraph.

Although many England fans would rather forget the disastrous home World Cup campaign that saw them exit rugby’s showpiece event at the pool stage for the first time its history, the men in white had the most inexperienced squad of all the tier one nations. In fact, only Fiji, Samoa, USA, Tonga, Namibia and Canada had less caps per player – all nations inhibited by a lack of proper access to their star individuals for most of the four year cycle.

Of course, the inclusion of international novices Sam Burgess, Henry Slade and Jamie George contributed to this figure, but even so this was a very inexperienced side that headed to Twickenham back in the autumn of 2015. Additionally, England had the youngest squad in terms of tier one nations.

England v Italy - RBS Six Nations

To think that they have capped only 12 new players since then, a similar figure to that of Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, shows that the achievements of the Eddie Jones era have been made by the very same players that failed to perform back in 2015.

What will be worrying for the rest of the world as well is England now currently have only seven players over the age of 30 in their Six Nations extended squad. This is a side that is going to go to way beyond 2019 in terms of its development.

Likewise, Scotland’s development since 2015 has been focussed on the same group of players – with only seven new players being capped since then. Like England, they too had a young and inexperienced team at the tournament, but until that game last weekend they were beginning to reap the rewards.

Ireland v New Zealand - International Match

Moreover, the New Zealand stats illustrates just how good the All Blacks’ player development pathway is. Younger on average than France or Ireland back in 2015 but vastly more experienced than any other team in the competition, New Zealand ease players through at a young age into a settled team and have a constant conveyor belt of talent bring brought through. Yet these stats certainly don’t tell the whole story – compare the figures for both the Springboks and the ABs and they are remarkably similar, yet both teams couldn’t be any more different in terms of fortune since the last World Cup.

As for Argentina, the introduction of The Jaguares into Super Rugby has fundamentally altered the player pool available to Los Pumas on a regular basis and so coach Daniel Hourcade has been able to explore his options more than ever before. Les Bleus also come near the top of the table, with new coach Guys Noves having been just as radical as former coach Marc Lievremont in terms of bringing through uncapped players.

There is so much that can be read into these statistics and much for fans and pundits alike to mull over.

Paul Wassell, Pundit Arena

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