Rugby World Cup 2011

Minnows closing the gap

2011-09-23 16:48
Will Genia (Gallo Images)

Dunedin - Reigning champions South Africa may have thrashed Namibia 87-0 but minnow nations have narrowed the gap on established teams at this World Cup, according to official analysis.

Blow-outs such as the Springboks' hammering of their African neighbours have been rare events at the ongoing tournament, with New Zealand's 83-7 trouncing of Japan the only similar scoreline.

And figures compiled by the International Rugby Board (IRB), the sport's global governing body, indicate that "tier two" nations are making life tougher for the elite.

The statistics show that after the first two rounds of pool matches, the average points difference in games between tier two and the tier one teams -- New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, England, France, Ireland, Scotland, Wales and Argentina -- was 29.

This compares with 42 points four years ago at the 2007 World Cup in France, and 43 at the 2003 edition in Australia.

The research also shows that after two rounds, the average number of tries scored by tier one teams was 5.3 per match and 1.2 for tier two, compared to 7.1 and 1.1 in 2007 and 7.4 and 1.3 in 2003.

The IRB has invested millions of dollars in bolstering rugby's 'second division' and Mark Egan, the board's head of development and performance, said: "We've seen a significant uplift in performance by the tier two nations.

"The stats are showing they are more competitive, that's down to the better quality of players coming out of the Pacific Islands, Georgia, Romania, Russia, Canada and the United States, and they are all on very good strength and conditioning programmes now."

Romania nearly produced one of the all-time great World Cup upsets when, in their opening match of this tournament, they ran Scotland desperately close before losing 34-24.

And even Egan was taken aback by the Eastern Europeans' form.

"Some teams have surprised us, Romania's performance against Scotland in their opening game, to only lose by 10 points and at one stage be ahead with only seven or eight minutes to go, was a great performance and they were the last team to qualify for this Rugby World Cup," he said.

"It just goes to show you if we can get the best players assembled from the tier two countries, if we can get more players playing professional rugby around the world, not just in Europe, what could happen."

Romania face England, bidding to reach their third successive World Cup final, in Dunedin's indoor Otago Stadium on Saturday.

When the teams last met, at Twickenham 10 years ago, England overwhelmed the Oaks 134-0, a scoreline which remains England's highest points total in a full international.

But Romania coach Romeo Gontineac, speaking to reporters here on Friday, said: "We proved we had improved against Scotland and in the game against Argentina (which the Oaks lost 43-8), we did a few good things.

"We've showed we can play at a high level."


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