Can England Realistically Expect to Win the World Cup With so Little Experience?

England

When Stuart Lancaster took over as England Head Coach he set out to build a new squad and fill it with caps in the lead up to 2015. Whilst to some extent he has achieved this goal, England still look woefully short of experience, especially in certain positions.

Based purely on the current England EPS this is the most experienced test side England could put out if they had a game tomorrow. Now obviously injuries have somewhat restricted appearances for certain players and there are of course still a few more internationals before the World Cup, however this is unlikely to change significantly;

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15.Mike Brown (33)

14.Marland Yarde (7)

13.Manu Tuilagi (25)

12.Brad Barritt (22)

11.Jonny May (11)

10.Owen Farrell (29)

9.Danny Care (50)

8.Ben Morgan (27)

7.Chris Robshaw (32)

6.James Haskell (53)

5.Courtney Lawes (36)

4.Joe Launchbury (22)

3.Dan Cole (45)

2.Dylan Hartley (61)

1.Joe Marler (26)

Now compare this to the current All Blacks squad below. Now obviously the total number of caps is slightly skewed as a result of two or three players, however when looking at the two teams in this way the All Blacks have almost twice as many caps as England. This is despite excluding Keven Mealamu who has 123 caps to Dane Coles current 27.

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15.Israel Dagg (46)

14.Ben Smith (39)

13.Conrad Smith (85)

12.Ma’a Nonu (94)

11.Julian Savea (33)

10.Dan Carter (102)

9.Aaron Smith (38)

8.Kieran Read (73)

7.Richie McCaw (138)

6.Jerome Kaino (57)

5.Sam Whitelock (62)

4.Brodie Rettalick (36)

3.Owen Franks (67)

2.Dane Coles (27)

1.Wyatt Crockett (37)

In the cold light of day, what this shows is that the current England squad has 479 caps to the All Blacks 934. Even more worrying is the fact that the All Blacks back line (9-15) has 437 caps to Englands 177 (that is almost two and a half times as many). For me this raises the question of whether or not England can realistically compete with such a breadth of experience?

Now the first point to consider here is that England’s pack actually aren’t that far behind their main rivals for the 2015 World Cup. 302 caps to 497 caps may still seem a significant difference, however when you consider that England still have a Six Nations campaign to come, things look a little more positive for Stuart Lancaster.

If Lancaster was to play his most experienced pack throughout the entire Six Nations that would add an additional 40 caps giving them a total of 342. You then take the anomaly of Richie McCaw out of the equation and there is just a 17 caps different. Yes it’s likely McCaw will play, however one injury and England are virtually level pegging with their illustrious rivals.

So, whilst England’s pack may have the experience to go toe-to-toe with the World’s best, how do their backs stand up? Potentially, post Six Nations the back line could have 212 caps to its name, however this still compares unfavourably to the All Blacks, even if you were to remove say Dan Carter’s 102 caps from the equation.

Currently England are sat on a total of 479 caps based on the team above, if that XV was to start each of next year’s Six Nations games then the total would come to 554 caps in total. Whilst this figure looks pretty reasonable it’s unlikely all 15 of these players will remain fit for the duration, or even be given the chance to continue to play each and every game. It would also be hard to argue that this represents England’s strongest starting XV.

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Anyway, ignoring those issues for a minute, how does this figure compare to previous World Cup winners. Well in 1999 Australia had 622 caps. in 2003 England had 638 caps, in 2007 South Africa had 688 caps and in 2011 New Zealand had 709 caps. This leaves England looking at least 100 caps shy of being realistic World Cup contenders based on prior evidence.

What we have seen over the last 20 years is an increasing trend of experience leading to success at rugbys showpiece event. Now obviously the prolonging of players careers is playing some part in this, however the reality is that history has shown us that to have serious ambitions to win a World Cup a team needs to be packed full of experience.

Each of these World Cup winning teams had an average number of caps per player of 41, 43, 46 and 47 respectively compared to England’s current 32 and the All Blacks current 62 per player.Now obviously luck will play some part as it always does in knockout sport, however when the All Blacks have almost twice as many caps per man as England do then it puts the host team at a serious disadvantage.

One particular area of concern is out wide where England’s two wingers have a combined cap count of just 18 between them compared to the All Blacks duos 72. These figures equate to the All Blacks wingers having four times the international experience of their English counterparts. This is even more worrying when compared to the Springbok duo of Bryan Habana and JP Pietersen who have a combined total of 165 caps which equates to more than nine times as many caps.

The one potential option Stuart Lancaster could look to explore in order to remedy this situation would be to recall some of England’s current outcasts, for example the likes of David Strettle and Chris Ashton who would bring a combined total of 52 caps to the side which compared much more favourably. The issue with this however is whether or not Chris Ashton is really up to playing for England at a World Cup?

Realistically history suggests that England have little to no chance of winning next year’s World Cup given the squads relative lack of experience. However, the World Cup is a one-off event where a moment of magic can completely change the complexion of the tournament, and let’s not forget, England will have the backing of a vociferous home crowd cheering their boys on to victory.

Do you think England can overcome the odds and win the 2015 Rugby World Cup?

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