Reddit user VinceWilfork has produced the below incredible analysis of just how far apart the two hemispheres are based on their recent performances;
Southern hemisphere teams employ vastly more enterprising attacking options, and that is as much as anything the direct result of the strength of defensive play, particularly in the propensity to attack the ruck and create turnover ball. Normally, comparing each hemisphere’s teams would be difficult. How fortunate, then, that we had a World Cup just one year ago to help us contrast the teams. What better point of reference than the biggest stage in world rugby, held just six months ago?
First, we’ll start with the basic tables from the group stages, all games included. Below are the point differentials for each of the major nations in the two hemispheres (I’ll do you a favour and leave out Italy).
Country Points For Points Against Point Differential Argentina 179 70 +109 Australia 141 35 +106 New Zealand 174 49 +125 South Africa 176 56 +120
Country Points For Points Against Point Differential England 133 75 +58 France 120 63 +57 Ireland 134 35 +99 Scotland 136 93 +43 Wales 111 62 +49
Righto, so every country, regardless of hemisphere, finished the group stages with a positive point differential, the lowest being Scotland’s +43. The average point differential for all the countries combined was +83; on average, the power nations were winning their four group matches by a touch under 21 points, or three converted tries.
None of this should be a surprise; the world-class, Tier 1 nations should be ending with strong point differentials in the group stage, since they get at least two chances to take on relative minnows. If we rank the teams on points scored, points conceded, and point differential, we get:
Ranked by Points Scored
Rank Country Points For 1 Argentina 179 2 South Africa 176 3 New Zealand 174 4 Australia 141 5 Scotland 136 6 Ireland 134 7 England 133 8 France 120 9 Wales 111
Ranked by Points Conceded
Rank Country Points Against T1 Australia/Ireland 35 3 New Zealand 49 4 South Africa 56 5 Wales 62 6 France 63 7 Argentina 70 8 England 75 9 Scotland 93
Ranked by Point Differential
Rank Country Point Differential 1 New Zealand 125 2 South Africa 120 3 Argentina 109 4 Australia 106 5 Ireland 99 6 England 58 7 France 57 8 Wales 49 9 Scotland 43
Pretty sorry reading if you’re a northern hemisphere fan; surely this indicates the divide between the teams, right? All four southern hemisphere teams occupy the top spots for points scored and point differential and, further to that, 3 of the top 4 spots for points conceded. Take into account that the historically tight and conservative Pumas outfit went out and led the tournament for points scored in the group stage.
I’ll get back to the World Cup, but it’s worth talking about Argentina’s development. The change in Argentinian tactics since their entry to SANZAR and the establishment of the four team Rugby Championship has been significant, increasingly dependent on aggressive, oftentimes mercurial play by scrumhalves, backed up with flair and confidence from speedy attacking wingers.
We’ll have a gander at their performances since 2012, their first year in the competition:
Year Points Scored Points Against Point Differential Average Points Scored Per Game Average Points Conceded Per Game Average Margin 2012 80 166 -86 13.33 27.67 -14.33 2103 88 224 -136 14.67 37.33 -22.67 2014 105 157 -52 17.50 26.17 -8.67 2015 64 98 -34 21.33 32.67 -11.33
I’ll preface this by admitting that, obviously, this is a very small sample size, so anything inferred could be, validly, criticised on that basis. Nonetheless, a number of southern hemisphere fans who have watched these games would likely agree with the trends. As you can see, the Pumas have made significant strides in their attacking play over the four-year period. Their attacking output has increased every year of participation; against opposition teams with relatively similar (and limited) player turnover in this period, the Pumas have, in essence, been putting more points on the board against opposition that, for all intents and purposes, has not changed significantly over that time period. Meanwhile, their defensive outputs have fluctuated somewhat; perhaps this does draw some legitimacy to your claim, but they have nonetheless hovered around 31 points per game; about a penalty’s difference from their 2012 results which, having occurred under a more conservative attacking gameplan, isn’t a surprise.
Now, we’ll return to the World Cup. You could, quite legitimately, argue that the group stage figures for all teams are skewed by games against minnows; does Australia’s 33 points against England really mean all that much?
So what we’ll do is remove all the games not played against the teams listed above; how does each hemisphere fare against its top-tier opposition. Of course, we’ll include the knockout stage matches as well. The table we get looks like this:
Country Games Played Wins Losses Points For Points Against Point Differential Average Points For Average Points Against Average Point Differential Australia 5 4 1 129 102 27 25.80 20.40 5.40 New Zealand 4 4 0 166 64 102 41.50 16 25.50 Argentina 4 1 3 87 99 -12 21.75 24.75 -3 South Africa 4 3 1 99 68 31 24.75 17 7.75 Wales 3 1 2 53 63 -10 17.67 21 -3.33 England 2 0 2 38 61 -23 19 30.50 -11.50 Scotland 2 0 2 50 69 -19 25 34.50 -9.50 France 2 0 2 22 86 -64 11 43 -32 Ireland 2 1 1 44 52 -8 22 26 -4
Uh oh, this isn’t looking too good. Well, when all four southern hemisphere teams make the semi-finals, it’s not a surprise, But what we’re talking about here is the idea that:
A) The southern hemisphere teams aren’t as good in attack as we think,
B) Their defence is worse than their northern counterparts as a result.
Let’s summarise the above table by hemisphere:
Hemisphere Games Played Wins Losses Points For Points Against Point Differential Average Points For Average Points Against Average Point Differential Northern 11 2 9 207 331 -124 18.82 30.09 -11.27 Southern 17 12 5 481 333 148 28.29 19.59 8.71
Ah shit, still not good. Well, again, no surprises based on the results we saw. Nonetheless, those average numbers begin to tell us a bit; southern hemisphere teams averaged almost 10 points more per game in attack, and gave up almost 11 fewer points per match than their northern rivals.
Then again, maybe this isn’t fair without evaluating how the hemispheres played against each other. How does that shake out?
Hemisphere Games Played Wins Losses Points For Points Against Point Differential Average Points For Average Points Against Average Point Differential Northern 7 7 0 245 121 124 35 17.29 17.71 Southern 7 0 7 121 245 -124 17.29 35 -17.71
Yeah, uh, not great. Average margin of victory for the southern hemisphere teams was almost 18 points per match; 18 points! Even if you remove the New Zealand-France game (which kind of undermines this whole exercise, but whatever), the southern hemisphere’s teams were still beating their northern foes by an average of 13 points.
But, ultimately, we still need to know how each hemisphere’s teams fared against their local opponents. I’m sure one could easily source out the relevant numbers from the Six Nations and Rugby Championship , but it’s 12:44AM down here and I’ve got tutorial work I’ve been putting off just to write this. Within their own hemisphere, here is how the countries did at the Rugby World Cup:
Hemisphere Games Played Average Points For Winner Average Points For Loser Average Game Margin Northern 2 26 17 9 Southern 5 26.60 15.80 10.80
Here, we can see numbers that aren’t actually too different. Unfortunately, the fact that we only had two games between northern hemisphere countries kind of throws those numbers out the window. 5 games isn’t great but, uh, 2 games is pretty fucking useless. Regardless, we can try and compare the southern hemisphere’s results to the previous table. Compared to when facing their antipodean nemeses (yes that’s the correct plural form), the southern hemisphere countries score an average of nearly 9 points less against their upside-down amigos. Surprisingly, however, and likely the core point of my argument, is that they also concede around one-and-a-half points fewer in these matches. The previous World Cup showed us that the southern hemisphere teams are, as it currently stands, superior in the grand context of world rugby. And yet, for all the talk of their vaunted attacks simply being the result of each country’s weak defence, the numbers would seemingly tell us that, in reality, the northern hemisphere teams are no better defensively, and yet vastly outmatched in attacking firepower.
Hopefully these numbers change your view on this. Southern hemisphere teams do not score more points simply because their defence is worse; rather, the attacking displays they put on are an outcome of the strength of the defences they see every year from the Rugby Championship downwards.
As I say, this is a pretty elementary analysis, and for full view I’d need to go back a few more years and incorporate the Six Nations vs. Rugby Championship analysis but, hey; the World Cup results don’t lie.