After a deeply disappointing weekend for Ireland and the other northern hemisphere nations we reflect on the data behind each of the Rugby World Cup 2015 quarter-finals.
Before a ball was kicked in this year’s world cup campaign, there was a positive energy among the teams of the Six Nations. This year would be different.
Recent performances on the Lions tour and in the Autumn internationals suggested we had caught up with our southern hemisphere cousins. The gap, while still present, had narrowed. We can beat them.
But just as we caught up, they changed the rules. Men who had spent the last decade getting bigger and bigger, worked to become leaner and faster. Nations that had forgotten the art of scrummaging learned how to perform an eight-man shove.
The graphic above shows the combined attacking statistics for the eight quarter-final teams across the pool stages and the quarterfinals. It makes for stark reading.
We carried about the same amount of ball, but with far lower reward. In a game measured in inches, these southern hemisphere teams make an extra metre on average from every carry in the game.
They are more likely to break clean of the opposition defence and most importantly of all they scored nearly twice the number of tries of the northern hemisphere teams during the tournament.
While South Africa needed a late try to see them past Wales, the statistics tell a very different story about the underlying performances.
South Africa had 60pc of the possession and territory, they made 50pc more carries than the Welsh and gained nearly double the metres. Wales success at getting over the gain line was a meager 26pc in comparison to 42pc from South Africa.
Both teams kept their tackle success rate high at 90pc, which kept the game tight; however, apart from the Davies try in the first half, Wales never looked particularly dangerous with the ball in hand. Two clean breaks and three offloads from 106 carries says it all.
Meanwhile in Cardiff, New Zealand decimated the French in the second quarterfinal, righting some of the wrongs from the quarterfinal in 2007.
Looking at the numbers it suggests that the French played some of their best rugby of the tournament. If you had offered seven clean line breaks to Philippe Saint-André before the game he would have bitten your hand off, but the French only managed to score the one try.
However it was the 24 missed tackles that made the difference. The Kiwis went clean 14 times, a statistic more from a pool game against a tier-2 nation rather than a quarterfinal, and clinically turned this into a nine- try rout.
When we studied Ireland's performance in the pool stages, we praised their table topping 91pc tackle success. The fear in all our hearts was that the loss of key players, particularly around the breakdown, would impact our ability to contain the Argentinian juggernaut.
Sadly our fears came to pass as the Argentinians filled the wings and targeted the Irish out wide. We became too narrow and left ourselves too much to do. Ireland managed 78pc tackle success in the quarter-final, with only the French performing worse defensively.
The score line probably doesn’t do justice to Ireland's performance, but the energy we had to put into our comeback from 17-3 down after only 20 minutes told at the end of the match. Seven clean breaks from Argentina to Ireland's three was telling on the scoreboard.
Prior to the match, most felt the final quarterfinal of the weekend between Australia and Scotland was a foregone conclusion. After 20 minutes the Australians knew that there was a game to be played.
Scotland made the biggest step up of any team in the last eight. In the pools they managed to get over the gain line only 36pc of the time, which they extended to 52pc on Sunday. They had an offload rate of only 7pc in the pools, which they raised to 13pc. At the same time they maintained a tackle success rate in the high eighties.
On the other hand, it’s hard to see what went wrong for the Australians in the data. They matched their statistics from the pool stage across the board. It was ebb and flow, each time the Australians thought they had done enough and relaxed, the Scottish came back. Only a late and controversial penalty saw the Australians through.
It’s an all Rugby Championship semi-final lineup and where the northern hemisphere sides will go from here is anyone’s guess. For too long we have taken our lead from what the southern hemisphere sides are doing.
We must learn to impose our own style of rugby on the game rather than being perennially one step behind our friends from below the equator.