How Much Is The Tier 1 v 2 Gap Down To Fitness?

At the recent Rugby World Cup we had 20 teams which, from a statistical point of view, they were nicely split half with 10 Tier 1 and 10 Tier 2 countries. I have taken how many points were scored in each quarter for all the games to see when the points were scores and when the gap grew the most.

Points Scored

First let’s have a look at all the teams and see when they scored their points during a game. We do need to remember that each team will have only played 4 games and so the numbers can be highly influenced by 1 game.

Tier Team 0-20 mins 20mins -halftime Halftime – 60mins 60mins – fulltime
1 Argentina 35 48 37 59
Australia 23 52 28 38
England 33 25 35 40
France 22 40 13 45
Ireland 39 27 15 53
Italy 18 26 24 6
New Zealand 55 27 40 52
Scotland 31 13 50 42
South Africa 35 28 56 57
Wales 33 27 24 27
Tier 1 Total   324 313 322 419
2 Canada 13 17 18 10
Fiji 18 25 17 24
Georgia 19 10 21 3
Japan 20 34 29 15
Namibia 16 10 22 22
Romania 9 3 7 41
Samoa 34 12 8 15
Tonga 20 21 19 10
Uruguay 19 6 5 0
USA 6 23 9 12
Tier 2 Total   174 161 155 152
Total   498 474 477 571

Overall the first three quarters of a game have a similar number of points scored with a slight increase in the first quarter. That difference though is only 20 points or half a point a game. In contrast there are an extra 80-100 points scored in the last quarter of a match or 2-2.5 points a game. So whilst it looks a big change at first it’s not like there is a flurry of tries.

If we look at the two tiers we see that the tier 2 nations score at a fairly even rate with a trend to score fewer points during the match. The tier 1 nations in contrast are even across the first three quarters and then have an uptick at the end.

I’m not going to go through all the teams but just pick out some that look interesting. There is clearly a big variation in the teams within each group. Uruguay for example score most of their points at the beginning of games where as Romania are the opposite. The USA appear to start each half slowly where as Georgia come out with a bang. We do need to remember that with only 4 games the last quarter especially will be influenced by the game situation. For example are teams trying to protect a lead or chase a score or is the result already decided?

Looking at the tier 1 nations, Italy’s numbers jump out due their inability to score in the last quarter. Do they need some new conditioning coaches? Argentina, Australia and France all started each half slowly and sped up. That’s surprising when you think that the blitzing of Ireland and England stand out in the memory. Also France have a reputation for being less fit but scored more in the last quarter than any other. South Africa’s numbers nicely fit the stereotype of grinding teams down with more points in the second half than first. New Zealand scored their points when fresh at the start of the game and when their subs came on in the last quarter. Finally Scotland were quiet going into halftime but scored as many points as the All Blacks in the second half.

Cross Tier games

Next let’s have a look when the two tiers score their points when playing sides from the other tier and against their own. The table below shows the points scored in each quarter with the average points per game in brackets.

Type Tier 0-20 mins 20mins -halftime Halftime – 60mins 60mins – fulltime
Cross 1 244 (10) 236 (10) 240 (10) 346 (14)
2 97 (4) 79 (3) 70 (3) 68 (3)
Tier 1 1 80 (5) 77 (5) 82 (5) 73 (5)
Tier 2 2 77 (5) 82 (5) 85 (5) 84 (5)
Total Result   498 474 477 571

We can see that the uptick in the final quarter that we saw from the tier 1 teams scores is from the games that they played tier 2 nations. When tier 1 sides face off against each other the scoring remains fairly constant with a slight uptick at the beginning of each half.

For the tier 2 nations we see a similar trend, when playing each other the scoring is evenly distributed. However that changes when they come up against tier 1 nations where they score most of their points when fresh at the beginning of the game. After that the scoring goes down and you would assume that is due to fatigue from having to do most of the defending.

Next let’s have a look at the average score winning margin through the game. So if the winning team comes from behind then there will be a negative number. The first thing to note is that on average the team winning will go on to win.

Type 0-20 mins 20mins -halftime Halftime – 60mins 60mins – fulltime
Cross 5.8 12.5 19.8 31.5
Tier 1 3.8 5.6 6.1 13.0
Tier 2 1.6 7.3 11.8 12.0
Total Result 5.9 11.8 16.0 23.9

The score margin in cross tier games increases by around 7 points a quarter until the last quarter where it jumps by nearly 12 points. I would suggest that this is down to 2 factors, first the starting players getting more tired having had to defend more. Secondly that the bench of tier 2 nations is a great drop in quality from the starters than you see in tier 1 nations. I don’t think that this is too surprising and is another reason to reduce the number of subs allowed during a game. Previously I have suggested that reducing the number of subs could also help reduce the body size of players and so injuries.

Back to the margin of victory and the numbers for tier 1 games is interesting. As we have previously seen the number of points scored per quarter in tier 1 games stays constant. But the points margin does not grow at a constant rate. The gap opens in the first quarter and then only creeps up over the middle half of the game. Then jumps out in the last twenty which means that who is scoring dramatically changes in the closing stages.

The story is different in the tier 2 games with the biggest change happening in the middle half of the game. The numbers suggest a tight opening before a team takes control of the game and then keeps things tight to close things out.

As stated originally this is a relatively small sample size and so we can’t read too much into. Still it’s interesting to see the different scoring patterns between the teams and the tiers.

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