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'I don't understand why people are not picking Ireland': Cohesion expert on RWC favourites

By Ned Lester
(Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

For a team that has beaten every major rival and claimed the World No 1 ranking over the past 14 months, Ireland are flying under the radar as far as expectations are concerned for the Rugby World Cup.


While unbeaten since game one of the New Zealand tour last July, Andy Farrell’s team have been given just a 46% chance of topping their pool in the World Cup by fans using the RugbyPass Road to the Final predictor.

It is indeed an incredibly competitive pool the Irish find themselves in, with fellow top-five ranked teams South Africa and Scotland along with Tonga and Romania to play. Even recently retired Scotland fullback, Stuart Hogg picked his homeland to miss the quarter-finals with the Springboks topping the pool.

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However, former Wallaby Ben Darwin begs to differ. The prop is the General Manager of Gain Line Analytics, a company that has developed a methodology for success based on cohesion factors and consults teams across the globe on selections.

“We believe there’s a misunderstanding about how teams work,” Darwin explained on the Aotearoa Rugby Pod. “That the driver of success is not actually the individual skill of a team, but more around the collective understanding.

“Whether that be interpersonal understanding, system understanding, role understanding.”

Darwin pointed to international teams being successful with combinations that have thrived at club level as an example of interpersonal understanding, and changing coaches who want to implement unfamiliar structures as an example of poor system understanding.

“What we’re saying is, the individual skill factor might make two or three per cent difference, we find cohesion can make up to 80 per cent differential.”



The methodology has proven successful in reflecting the results of previous World Cups, with no team ever lifting the Webb Ellis Cup without being top three in the cohesion metrics.

So, what is Darwin’s prediction for this World Cup?

“I don’t understand why people are not picking Ireland to win the World Cup.

“They’re the best team in the world. They’ve been the most accurate, they’ve been the most consistent.

“I think people are going for what’s happened before with them, and Ireland’s been growing now, basically in their performance for the past 25 years.


“But, if you look at it as they are a reasonably cohesive team, it means between the World Cups they’re at their peak and it looks like they sort of fall away. But it was also to do with other countries peaking.

“I just think, the way they’re built at the moment if things go right for them and right for everyone else, they’ll win it. I think things have to go badly wrong for them and significantly right for other people for them to fall short.

“I think it will be Ireland over New Zealand in the final.”

Ireland begin their World Cup campaign against Romania this weekend, boosted by the return of captain Johnny Sexton.

Sexton and his men will face South Africa and Scotland in the final weeks of pool play in two Tests that could conceivably be a final preview.

While the return of their influential captain is critical to Ireland’s World Cup ambitions, Darwin looked elsewhere when naming who will be the best player of the tournament.

“I’m going to give you two answers, I think Aaron Smith will be voted as the best player in the world but I think the best player in the tournament is Tadgh Furlong.

“We never get voted Player of the Match for anything, tight-heads never get recognised but Furlong’s easily the best player in the world right now.”


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